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Riverside Market: Will It Have to Move Now?

Over the past few months, we've told you about the troubles facing Julian Siegel of Riverside Market. He opened the small food and beer joint in Riverside Park/Sailboat Bend six years ago, to the delight of neighborhood drinkers and eaters (but especially drinkers). With more than 500 kinds of beer and a small but delicious selection of foods, Riverside Market has become the neighborhood hangout. You could grab a beer out of the cooler yourself, pop it open and hang on the couch, and pay by the honor system.

But success has come with a couple of headaches.

As we reported, Siegel faced some issues with zoning. The area is zoned residential, not commercial, but Siegel said his business was grandfathered in. It was legally defined as a takeout joint rather than a restaurant. The fact that people wanted to linger and open their beers and gobble down their food on-site blurred the line between a takeout place and a restaurant. Restaurants have higher standards for beer and wine licensing, inspections, building requirements, parking, and landscaping.

While Siegel tried working out his woes with the City of Fort Lauderdale -- he was temporarily banned from letting people drink on the premises -- he was also getting more popular. So he needed more parking. He had been eyeing an adjacent empty lot that he hoped to buy from the city, but when it became available for sale, Yellow Cab taxi king Jesse Gaddis -- reportedly the fourth-richest man in Fort Lauderdale -- swooped in and bought it for $15,000 before Siegel learned it was even for sale. After Siegel and dozens of supporters showed up at a city hearing complaining about the bidding process, the city called a do-over on the sale, but now the price to buy it has increased from its original value of $15,300 to $ 25,300, an increase of nearly 100 percent. If granted the property, the price tag to bring it up to code is estimated between $40,000 and $45,000. Siegel put in a second bid and was recently told that this time around, he was the only bidder. The fate of the bid will be determined at a City Commission meeting slated for late August. 

Siegel recently opened an online fundraising campaign on indiegogo and is selling "Save Riverside Market" T-shirts ($15) to raise money to buy the lot, but even if that were to succeed, the city still has to enforce its zoning laws. Ella Parker, urban design and planning manager, recently sent a letter to Siegel informing him of its position. Says the letter:

I am aware of the success that your market has had in the community and I wish there were easier steps for you to take to provide the ability, as you indicated, for Riverside Market "to offer indoor seating and to serve beer and wine, as a coffee shop and bakery can." However, the current zoning of your property is classified as "Residential Single Family/Low Medium Density District"(RS-8) and the current land use is "Low-Medium". I'm advised that this site currently has legal nonconforming use status for retail pursuant to Section 47-3.1, Nonconforming Use and pursuant to Section 47-3.5, Change of Use it has been permitted to include take-out restaurant. Both of these uses are permitted to remain without the need to bring the structure or the parking up to current code requirements.

From staff's understanding you are currently seeking to establish a restaurant on this site and obtain a license for serving alcohol. A change of use to a restaurant is not currently permitted since the existing RS-8 zoning district does not permit commercial uses. You have also indicated that you are considering a neighboring lot for purchase, to provide the required amount of parking for the requested change of use to a restaurant. If you wish to move forward with the purchase of this lot for the purposes of providing parking, the lot would also be required to meet the same provisions as the subject site.
She went on to cite eight statutes that he'd have to comply with -- they involved changes to loading zones and "tree preservation" -- and suggested he hire a consultant or get with his city commissioner.

Will the City of Fort Lauderdale's strict zoning requirements and increasing monetary demands force Riverside Market to relocate?

Stay tuned; we will keep you updated on the saga.

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Deirdra Funcheon

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