At their meeting Tuesday, October 18, Gulfport City Council approved an ordinance amendment that would open the door for new businesses in a specific section of Gulfport Boulevard – including a Dunkin’ Donuts – to include customer drive-throughs.
The measure was in response to an application by Poul and April Hornsleth of R.W. Caldwell Realty & Insurance, who have proposed a Dunkin’ Donuts on two abutting lots they own on the southwest corner of 56th Street S. and Gulfport Blvd. S.
The conditional use of drive-throughs is already allowed in a more developed commercial section of Gulfport Boulevard currently zoned CL2 (commercial limited); the ordinance amendment added drive-throughs to the list of conditional uses allowed in the CL1 zoning district, where currently only financial institutions are allowed to have them.
Council members also approved a companion ordinance amendment that would set standards for drive-through facilities. Currently none exist.
During the discussion of the proposed amendments, members of the public as well as some council members voiced concern about a wide range of potential problems stemming from a Dunkin’ Donuts and a drive-through at the site. Among these: increased noise, traffic and air pollution; bakery odors; litter; disruption of a residential neighborhood; a negative effect on neighboring property values; and the displacement of people in housing currently on the site, in particular, an elderly long-time resident mentioned by several members of the public in attendance.
There was also concern about cars waiting to order backing up and disrupting traffic on Gulfport Boulevard and about the effect another national chain would have on Gulfport’s character.
“Gulfport will lose its eclectic flair if we allow Dunkin’ Donuts to come into our city,” resident Hugo Martin-Rodriguez told council, eliciting applause from several audience members.
Jody McMaster, a 56th Street resident, said neighbors were especially concerned about additional traffic the proposed business would bring to their street since the concept plan shows an entrance and exit on 56th Street as well as on Gulfport Boulevard.
She also said her research indicated many Dunkin’ Donuts are open seven days a week from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.
“It doesn’t work for us at all,” she said.
City Manager Jim O’Reilly and Community Development Director Fred Metcalf said the amendments only open the possibility of allowing drive-throughs on a case-by-case basis, and that the final plan for the proposed Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through – as well as of the entire project – still required extensive vetting and approval by city officials.
There will be a second reading and public discussion of the amendments at the next city council meeting, November 1.
The next steps would be for the applicants to seek conditional use and site plan approvals from the Planning and Zoning Department and council, they said.
Business owner and former mayoral candidate Barbara Bano acknowledged the complexity of issue, telling council: “I really don’t envy you guys right now.”
In other matters, council also heard from Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent and Cmdr. Joshua Stone about a new adult pre-arrest diversion program that went into effect county-wide on Monday, October 17. The program aims to provide an alternative to arrest for certain categories of offenders who agree to accept responsibility for their crime, make restitution to their victims, and perform community service.
Council also authorized the city manager to contract with Gator Paving and Grading for alley maintenance and grading, and to order Secord Contracting to perform emergency repairs to city storm water facilities damaged by recent storms.
“I wanted to bring up that Saturday is Jazz on the Bay and that it’s co-sponsored-ish by the Gulfport Historical Society. The line-up is tremendous. … We’re very, very excited. It’s the first annual so please come out and support us.” – Councilmember Christine Brown
“A couple of folks mentioned it and I’m not going to go into detail, but … people have called and shared with me something that’s been out there on social media about me. And you know, my feelings still get hurt. I’m a tough cookie but … Perhaps I explained to some folks and maybe not to others that we’re a good council. We have a code of conduct and I hope that at all times we adhere to the code of conduct and respect each other. … I like my colleagues and I’ll keep it that way. So, it is what it is. It’s there. I’ve acknowledged it and I hope we can move forward from this and continue working on behalf of city issues.” – Councilmember Yolanda Roman in response to a photo recently posted on social media.
“Taking up what you just said … November 8, the election is over with and on November 9 we can all breathe and be happy, one way or the other. Hopefully, the divisiveness that this election has brought about on both sides, will, uh, I don’t know if it will heal, but maybe at least it will bring people a little closer together.” – Councilmember Michael Fridovich