It’s far from what the developer originally promised but city officials struck a deal Wednesday morning requiring a proposed Dunkin’ Donuts to match the aesthetics of the historic neighborhood it will be built in.
The franchise coffee and donuts shop was approved, pending design approval from Bradenton City Council, to be built at the corner of Manatee Avenue East and 14th Street East. That approval went against the recommendation of the city’s lead planner.
Catherine Hartley previously told the Bradenton Herald that she doesn’t believe a national chain fits with the city’s vision for the area, especially given the fact that the Curry National Register historic district sits just north of the property. She also said she took issue with the developer backing out of its agreement to bring a mixed use facility to the area.
“I have recommended denial because it is inconsistent with other policies in the comprehensive plan, specifically ones that carry forward the vision identified in the (Community Redevelopment Agency) plan,” Hartley said. “It’s clear to me that the intent of this block and westward toward downtown was supposed to be a change in context from strip commercial to urban mixed use.”
When Bradenton council members approved the special area plan for The Preserve at Riverwalk apartments in 2015, they agreed to a mixed use on that corner. The agreement, however, did allow for the developer to stick to residential if there was no retail interest after three years.
But Hartley said there’s no guarantee that Atlanta-based Hatfield Development Company will follow through with the coffee shop. In her presentation to council members, she laid bare all the possibilities that could be built at that corner if the Dunkin’ deal were to fall apart.
“When you rezone, you’re not limiting to this use, you’re getting the whole kit and caboodle for what can be allowed on this space. Are you willing to gamble on a contract for sale for one use but might get something else if it falls through? Or changes hands later?” Hartley asked.
She ended her slideshow with an image that upset council members and developers. Hartley compared the 2015 mixed use rendering to a well-known Tampa strip club to question whether city officials wanted what they originally agreed to or the potential for an adult entertainment facility that would be allowed under the future land use category.
That set off the project planners and at least one council member who found the exaggeration to be unnecessary.
“Why would you put a strip club? Why wouldn’t you put a cemetery as you’ve mentioned many other times? But to put a strip club to try to entice things is very inappropriate for this council member,” said Councilman Gene Brown.
Ed Vogler, a land use attorney with ZNS Engineering, said he was “extremely offended” that hyperbole was used to “undermine” the Dunkin’ Donuts proposal.
Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. defended Hartley’s presentation, pointing out that it’s her job to give council members the worst-case scenario.
“It’s not going to shape any decision I make here today,” he said.
Hartley admitted the example may have been over the top, but she noted that “we’ll have no right to say no to that,” if the rezoning was approved without any sort of stipulation. Vogler leaned on the commitment his client has already made to revitalize that parcel of land along the Manatee River.
“It’s not like this is the poor developer who’s just crying for your attention. This is someone that has invested literally tens of millions of dollars in the city of Bradenton at this site and will invest more,” Vogler argued. “There is a credibility that is significant here.”
Dunkin’ Donuts has already entered into the engineering phase and a general site plan was part of the ZNS presentation. The 1,800-square-foot restaurant would feature two drive-thru lanes, inside seating and parking, with a storm water pond on the west side of the parcel. The only entrance to the coffee shop would be along 14th Street East.
ZNS Engineering planner Rachel Layton said the proposal fits with the city’s comprehensive plan by allowing for a walkable space near the end of the Riverwalk’s eastern expansion. The site sits just a block away from Manatee Mineral Springs Park and is across the street from the Manatee Village Historical Park.
But members of the public said it would a “travesty” for the city’s eastern entrance to be a national chain right in the heart of a historic area.
Vogler said the developers have extended an olive branch for collaboration by planning for a “public green space” at the north end of the lot that will consist of a gazebo area with sidewalk access to Fourth Avenue East and also working with the city to construct a urban corridor welcome sign along Manatee Avenue.
That wasn’t enough to change the minds of community members who spoke adamantly against the proposal. Mike Herring, president of the board of directors of the Manatee County Historical Society, said the appearance of the “garish” orange facade of the chain wouldn’t mesh with the location.
“The society opposes the approval of a permit to build a Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s a small piece, but it is a very important part of that,” he said. “Given the appearance of such a building, it would be inappropriate to the rest of the area.”
Councilman Bill Sanders said the construction of the franchise shop would be a “downgrade” for the area, but Byrd sought compromise by asking the developers to make sure they design a storefront that’s as close as possible to the style of some of the neighboring historical houses.
An interpretation of what’s “aesthetically pleasing” for that area will be left up the city council when architectural renderings of the restaurant come back before them.
“It’s not going to be a Taj Mahal,” Vogler said. “It’s still a Dunkin’ Donuts, but we’re happy to bring that back.”