The city’s battle with the owner of a barbecue restaurant over sewer/water hookups, a fire hydrant and impact fees is back at the forefront after the eatery recently shut its doors.
In June, Fruitland Park commissioners had instructed City Attorney Anita Geraci-Carver to begin the process of filing a lawsuit – a decision they reaffirmed on Thursday night – against the owners of Burke’s BBQ, located at 311 County Road 466A. That decision came after Geraci-Carver had sent the owners, T.D. Burke and his family, a letter in March telling them that they had until June 19 to hook up to the city’s water and sewer system, install a fire hydrant and pay a significant amount of money in impact fees.
The restaurant’s owners had agreed on April 12, 2012 that they would have a six-month window to take care of that commitment. Last year, the city sent Burke two letters giving him until Oct. 6 to take care of the issue. City Manager Gary La Venia said Burke then paid him a visit and “raised holy hell.”
“He said absolutely no way am I doing this,” La Venia said. “And he didn’t. He just didn’t want to pay the money.”
Commissioner Patrick DeGrave, who in June had adamantly pushed for the city to pursue legal action, said Thursday that he hadn’t changed his mind. He added that it’s a fundamental issue for him and has nothing to do with who owns the property.
“You signed an agreement, honor the agreement,” he said. “I think that’s the message the city has to send any property owner. You come in and make a deal with us, expect to live up to the deal.”
Commissioner John Mobilian agreed.
“I think it’s important to keep going,” he said. “They haven’t lived up to their end of the deal, so far. I think it will behoove us to stay on them, even if they sell it.”
Burke’s BBQ announced on its Facebook page on July 25 that the restaurant would be closing. It followed up with posts on July 29 announcing a going-out-of-business sale scheduled for the following day. The public and other restaurant owners were invited to attend and purchase supplies and equipment that was still inside the building.
On Thursday night, commissioners said they had heard rumors that Burke’s property had been sold. Geraci-Carver said she hadn’t been able to confirm that but would continue to monitor the situation. And she reiterated that any new owner would be required to resolve the issues with the city, which will likely cost them about $110,000.
In June, commissioners learned that a developer has expressed interest in buying 90 acres from the Burke family to open an RV park. If that park becomes a reality, it is believed that it will have access from both CR 466A and Micro Racetrack Road. It’s unclear who is considering purchasing the land and if they are aware of the issues with the city that will need to be cleared up.
In the past, commissioners also have expressed concerns about the initial plan for fighting a fire at the wooden restaurant building – pumping 10,000 gallons of water from a nearby private swimming pool through a high-pressure hose. The closest fire hydrants are quite a distance away and their use would require CR 466A – the major thoroughfare into The Villages – to be shut down if the city’s fire department had to run hoses from them to battle at blaze at the structure.
Fruitland Park Fire Rescue Chief Donald Gilpin also has pointed out that the pool water has algae in it and he’d be quite hesitant to run it through a fire engine’s pump because it could severely damage it. He said Lake County’s dispatch center has been made aware that if a fire is called out at the building, a water tanker task force needs to be activated to respond.