Letter: City flaunts its own regulations for Dining with Dignity
St Augustine, FL
Dear Historic City News editor:
My name is Debra Valenti-Epstein, I live in Lincolnville and I own two additional vacant building lots at 89 and 98 Washington Street.
Several residents will be writing to bring the illegal use of two properties to your attention. They will address their personal experiences with the impact; I am focusing on the legality. 74 Bridge Street is a privately owned RS-2 residential lot with a variance restricted to parking currently under lease with the city; 78 Bridge Street, owned by the city, is CL-1.
Neither lot zoning allows for outdoor events nor service of food and neither lot has roofs nor bathroom facilities.
Beginning in 2010, the city moved the “Dining with Dignity” program from the public Plaza in town to 74 Bridge Street, out of the view of tourists, and closer to St Francis House. Since that time, the program has grown from one or two nights per month to five to seven nights a week attracting up to 100 persons. People walk, drive in trucks and vans, bicycle in, and leave trash, urine, and feces on both Washington Streets and Bridge Streets.
The people gathered before both the PZB and the Commissioners with applications before you, do so as law abiding citizens to secure approvals for permits and act in accordance with the laws of this city. Yet, the city itself has decided to flaunt its own regulations and operate and allow to be operated this food service “business” enterprise to the detriment of the Lincolnville neighborhood, creating both a private and public nuisance.
There is no sanitation, no bathrooms, no hand washing. The “invitees” urinate and defecate both on the sidewalks and on private property and leave their trash for taxpaying citizens to clean up. Neither the city nor county have sought ANY permits nor variances, nor immediate neighbor input whatsoever. This location is unacceptable and illegal.
Adding insult to the injury, after I made public records requests and filed a citizen enforcement complaint with the city for its illegal use of 74 Bridge Street, the city simply moved the operation from the private lot at 74 to the city owned lot at 78 next door, and, I find, that in order to avoid making a record of the illegal activities, the communications between the city, the county, the vendors and the subtenants are all made VERBALLY, to avoid public disclosure of their collusion.
My records request for 78 Bridge Street shows NO records whatsoever, none for the food service and none for the shed erected on the lot which houses the tables and chairs for the illegal operation. I have now also filed a citizen enforcement complaint with the city regarding 78 Bridge Street.
Furthermore, the City Attorney is aware of the illegal uses of these lots for a city sponsored program.
I ask the members of both the PZB Board and Commissioners to direct enforcement action against the city itself and to direct the City Attorney to act within the law and to cease these illegal operations immediately.
Caveat: I now understand the City has established an “ad hoc” policy exempting these types of services from adherence to the zoning code.