BRANDON — The fate of a new restaurant and liquor store planned for Oak Park Plaza appear to be in doubt after a county hearing dominated by nearby residents' concerns about noise, alcohol sales and lack of parking.
Winbran Corp. is seeking variances that would allow alcohol sales for a six-table Jamaican family restaurant and a small liquor store in the plaza at Lumsden Road and Kings Avenue in Brandon.
The plaza is home to O'Brien's Irish Pub and the Shrimp Warehouse, which sell alcohol. Two free-standing buildings under construction in the plaza — a sushi restaurant due to open in August and a Mexican restaurant opening in June — will also sell alcohol.
"This is an undesirable element we don't need," said Oscar Lastinger, president of the Oak Park Townhomes Homeowners Association, a 75-home development near the plaza. "We vehemently oppose this."
Lastinger was joined by 30 residents and supporters at a zoning master hearing Monday in Tampa.
The plaza's owners were aware of the residents' concerns and dramatically reduced the scope of the application, said Todd Pressman, a lobbyist for Winbran. The original "wet zoning" request was for five separate areas in the plaza, he added.
Still, residents are concerned that the variances will only open the door to more applications for stores that can sell alcohol.
"We are not Ybor City and this is depreciating our home values further, said Gwen Plyler, secretary of the Oak Park homeowners group.
Nancy Gerille, secretary of the homeowners group, said plaza patrons are already parking in her neighborhood when O'Brien's hosts St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo parties.
"We have to hire an off-duty sheriff's deputy to keep people out," said Gerille, who presented an 80-signature petition opposing the variances.
Jamie Scarola, who chaired the zoning hearing, asked if there was any dialogue with residents before the variance applications were submitted.
"It's a little late to be talking to residents now," Scarola said.
Scarola urged more talks between residents and the plaza owners to resolve the issue, which he said goes beyond the applications for a liquor store and restaurant.
O'Brien's co-owner Sean Rice, who has been known to work with local community groups, said he was shocked at the complaints about noise and lack of parking.
"We will be talking to the residents and the community. I love this community and enjoy working in it," he said.
As for Esther Etienne, the owner of the proposed Jamaican restaurant that will employ five or six people, she's not sure she can proceed without the variance to sell alcohol.
"I will have to reconsider things. I have already put a lot of money into this," she said.
Nicole Farantatos, vice president of Winbran, is promising more dialogue with residents.
"I want to talk to residents and resolve the problems and make sure these things don't happen again," said Farantatos.
Oak Park homeowners are confident the variances for the restaurant and liquor store will be rejected if the zoning master visits the plaza, as he typically does before rendering a decision.
"He will agree with us if he goes out there and doesn't believe the lies he was told tonight," Plyler said. "But we will appeal if we lose and we will keep appealing."
The zoning master is expected to announce a decision by May 7.
Kevin Brady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.