A dozen cars with Wendy’s signs taped on their windows weren’t in line for a Baconator Tuesday night.
Drivers honked and circled North Miami’s City Hall protesting a proposed Wendy’s drive-thru at 13400 NE Third Court. Residents in the area are worried about the potential impacts on their quality of life, including heavy traffic, noise and trash that could result from having a drive-thru near their homes.
The Wendy’s had already been approved, but the drive-thru needed special consideration.
People were also suspicious of the developer’s relations with Ronald Book, one of the state’s top lobbyists, who the Miami Herald found was not registered as a local lobbyist with the city of North Miami, but does represent the city in Tallahassee. Book later said a mistake had been made with his registration and that it had been fixed.
Despite public outcry at the meeting from protesters dressed in T-shirts with the Wendy’s logo, councilors voted 4-1, with Scott Galvin dissenting, to reverse a decision made by the city’s board of adjustment in December. That board voted against the drive-thru on the basis of inadequate parking, inadequate access for the amount of estimated traffic and the negative impacts on the neighborhood.
A site review needs to be approved and building permits need to be obtained for the drive-thru to be built, said Tanya Wilson, the city’s community planning and development director. This process could take three to six months to finalize.
Eileen Bicaba, a resident of Northeast Third Court for 25 years, said traffic from the drive-thru would affect her street. She argued that the commercial area where the Wendy’s will be already doesn’t have enough parking because of a laundromat and a Family Dollar store, and customers are already parking on swales in front of homes. A drive-thru would make parking worse, she said.
“It’s more than just the drive-thru,” Bicaba, 52, said, “It’s everything.”
Other neighbors like Laurie Landgrebe, 55, said the drive-thru will affect the charm of the neighborhood.
“I can’t accept a drive-thru,” Landgrebe, who bought a home in the neighborhood three years ago, said. “It’s going to ruin the neighborhood.”
Residents expressed concerns with traffic flowing into the street from the drive-thru. People said that as many as 200 cars per hour could go through the drive-thru. One of the developer’s attorneys, Jerry Proctor, argued that 18 parking spaces were proposed for the drive-thru, which meets city code.
Proctor said the drive-thru has a capacity of 10 cars at any given time and there’s adequate space adjacent to the Wendy’s if there were more.
Another representative for the developer said there would only be 542 new daily trips to the Wendy’s.
The developer also received approval to remove a right-turn only sign at the intersection of Northeast 135th Street and Third Court, which residents said would make the “dangerous” intersection worse.
Proctor disagreed with the board of adjustment’s argument that there would be inadequate access based on the estimated traffic.
Councilwoman Carol Keys, who voted in favor of overturning the decision, said the councilors needed to consider competent, substantial evidence, even if a room of people offered their views — and especially if their opposition is based only on emotion.
She said parking is not a requirement for a drive-thru if people aren’t leaving their cars.
“I know a lot of people don’t want a Wendy’s,” Keys said during the meeting. “It’s not about the Wendy’s. We’re not up here to tell a business they don’t have the right to be there.”
Councilman Alex Desulme said he agreed with overturning the decision based on the information given by the developer and the law.
“I may not agree with them, but I will respect them,” Desulme said referring to the residents who protested. “But please, don’t think we’re here to make decisions based on a room of folks and people with signs.”
Galvin said he voted against overturning the board’s decision because he didn’t want to override the citizen board’s power without strong, compelling evidence.
“Those were residents who sat on the board of adjustment and gave their time,” he told the Miami Herald Thursday. “As a council, if we were just overturning every lower board we have, then why have a board?”
Beyond these complaints, residents were concerned with the late-night noise from the drive-thru and trash around their neighborhood.
Residents expressed their unease with Book, a prominent Florida lobbyist who was at the meeting, representing both the city and the developer.
“I’m paying him to go to Tallahassee and then he goes against me?” said Ben Bicaba, 67.
Councilors said Book spoke with them individually about the Wendy’s proposal before the meeting, but they didn’t express concerns at the meeting over a conflict of interest despite him being registered to lobby for the city in Tallahassee.
Although some residents opposed Book’s involvement at the meeting, he told the Miami Herald Thursday that some of the residents didn’t have a problem meeting with him and his group a week and a half early. He said only about five people showed up to a town hall meeting he hosted.
Book said there was a “snafu” when registering as a lobbyist. He said the issue has since been fixed, but declined to give details on what happened.
“We don’t skirt the law,” he said. “We don’t play with it. But there was a hiccup on it ... Unregistered lobbyists hide. I don’t hide.” Book didn’t respond to several requests for comment Wednesday.
According to city code, all lobbyists must register with the city clerk at least five days prior to engaging in lobbying activities or before being retained as a lobbyist unless they are a public officer, employee, appointee or any person or entity under contract with the city that only appears in an official capacity.
Book said there was a “snafu” when he registered as a lobbyist. He said the issue has since been fixed, but declined to give details on what happened.
“We don’t skirt the law,” he said. “We don’t play with it. But there was a hiccup on it.”
Residents said they will continue to fight against the drive-thru. Landgrebe said the residents plan to appeal and create a GoFundMe page for help with obtaining legal representation.
“We believe this decision was all about Ron Book,” she wrote in an email Tuesday night. “It was a travesty. It’s not over.”