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At Kapok, dispute is still simmering

(ran LA edition of LT)

A neighborhood dispute involving the landmark Kapok Tree property on McMullen-Booth Road has both sides talking tough.

In one corner: the Tampa couple who bought the property in 1992. They have refashioned the opulent Kapok Tree restaurant into a "music mall" with a banquet business on the side. It's now called the Kapok Pavilion.

In the other: residents in two sprawling neighborhoods to the south and east. They say music from the banquets is coming into their dens, trash from the garbage bin is blowing down their streets, and drivers who can't find room in the pavilion's lot are parking in front of their homes.

The city's Planning and Zoning Board tried to resolve the problem Tuesday, but both sides were left feeling more bitter than before.

After the meeting, Pamela Keris, who owns the Kapok Pavilion with her husband, Elliot Rubinson, said they have received offers to develop the property as a six-story office building or a 24-hour gas station and convenience store.

Keris, weary of complaints from the neighbors, said the couple might follow through on the offers if the problems continue.

"We've really done everything we can to be a good neighbor," she said.

A new building would be fine with Len Vivolo, who is heading an effort by residents in the nearby Del Oro Gardens subdivision to reduce problems from the business.

"I'd rather have a six-story office building over there because at 4 o'clock everybody goes home and there is no noise," he said. "These people are just totally uncaring about their surroundings. The name of the game is profit."

The seven-member planning and zoning board was considering whether to continue to allow alcohol sales on the property. Board members approved the sales, but placed conditions on Kapok Pavilion that will require the owners to keep their trash bin area clean, police their parking lot for problems, try to keep customers from parking on side streets, notify residents when a large event is scheduled and stop playing music at 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at midnight the rest of the week.

Although resigned to the conditions, Keris objected to them, saying they go far beyond the scope of what should be required to sell alcohol.

For example, she said she knows of no other business that must notify neighbors of an event or try to control parking off their property.

She said the number of banquets and parties at the pavilion will drop dramatically beginning Nov. 1 because she and her husband plan a shift toward more retail shops in the building.

She said they also are considering selling their liquor license and requiring customers to provide their own alcohol. That would remove all of the conditions imposed on Tuesday, she said.

For residents, the conditions did not go far enough.

Vivolo noted that at a June 6 meeting, neighbors, Keris and city staff members agreed that music would stop at midnight Fridays and Saturdays and at 10 p.m. the rest of the week. There also was a provision that would have required the pavilion to notify residents of large events 14 days in advance.

But the board watered down both proposals, saying they were too stringent.

Vivolo said the board failed to do anything about the neighbors' chief concern, which is noise. On some nights, he said, music reverberates within the pavilion's marble walls and drowns out his television.

Keris told the board that police have come to her property with a noise meter and found no violation of the city's noise ordinance.

She also said no one complained to her until the matter came to the planning and zoning board.

"What they're telling the residents here is, "If you don't like it, move,' " Vivolo said.

The board will revisit the issue in nine months to see how the pavilion and the neighbors are getting along.