ENID, Okla. — Seventeen downtown Enid businesses are objecting to Five80 Coffeehouse’s plans to add outdoor seating, in response to ongoing efforts to provide services to Enid’s homeless population downtown.
Tracy Bittle, executive director of Leonardo’s Children’s Museum, told Enid city commissioners Thursday night this protest was in light of the previous issues downtown when the Breezeway walkway area was closed due to problems of illegal and inappropriate behavior from some of the homeless people congregating in the area.
Bittle said earlier this month, downtown business owners were surprised to hear of Forgotten Ministries director Jeremiah Herrian’s stated plans to move the Breezeway to behind Five80, which is owned by Forgotten Ministries and located at 122 E. Randoph.
The city of Enid on Jan. 7 then approved a permit for Five80 to add an awning, tables and chairs, and an outdoor bathroom area, which would be open all day and all week, outside of normal business hours.
Represented by Clint Claypole, downtown businesses appealed the decision with the city earlier this week.
“Please, please understand that us as neighbors in the neighborhood, we wish Mr. Herrian and his programs the best. We are grateful for his services, and he is addressing an extremely important public health problem: the homeless persons of Enid. Our issue is that this proposed project is not allowed by the Enid Square Overlay District,” which controls development of the downtown area, Bittle said.
“We support the city and all the programs that are trying to help the homeless population. We just need alternatives in a properly zoned area that is not in proximity to a children’s tourist attraction,” she said.
Ward 5 Commissioner Rob Stallings, whose ward includes downtown Enid, said he asked the item be included on the regular meeting agenda because he said the business owners had a right to voice their concerns.
The businesses that Bittle said she was speaking for included: Klemme Construction, Klemme Photogrpahy, Leonardo’s Children’s Museum and Adventure Quest, Hann Plummer PLLC, Smithson Appraisal, Bobbie’s Mattress Barn, Merrifield’s Office Supply, Andrew Ritchie of Farmers Insurance, Settlers Brewing Company, K/H Financial LLC, Scheffe’s Prescription Shop, Edward Jones Corp., Wyant Law Firm, Landmark Real Estate, Panevino’s, Youngblood Cafe, and Randy Wagner, of Wagner Law Firm.
Herrian said while other downtown restaurants and bars were allowed to have outdoor seating, the appeal was discriminatory against his customers and his business.
“These are people, just like any of the lawyers, doctors and teachers who come into our facility,” Herrian said, “and to say we’re not allowed to have outdoor seating for our customers would be an act of discrimination.”
Herrian said the plan to add outdoor seating instead began around three years ago because the coffee shop was running out of space to seat its growing number of customers, which includes those from the homeless community in Enid.
This is despite what Herrian said at the most recent city commission meeting on Jan. 5, when he was there to discuss zoning changes as part of Forgotten Ministries’ plans to also add a tiny-home village as a new ministry program unconnected to homelessness.
At that meeting, Herrian said Five80 was, in the meantime, planning to add outdoor seating for both its customers and the homeless people who would congregate in the Breezeway and include 24-hour bathrooms.
“When the concerns of what was going on the Breezeway was brought to attention, I talked to (City Manager) Jerald (Gilbert) and several of the commissioners of what it would be that we could help fix that problem. And so we are relocating the Breezeway down behind Five80. It is gonna be an outdoor seating for not only our Five80 customers, but also for the homeless community,” Herrian said during the meeting.
Herrian said construction has started, having spent thousands of dollars on the project with Cummins Construction. Contractors now are on hold waiting to continue the project, he said, adding that Five80 would instead likely keep an outdoor bathroom open during regular business hours if that was an issue.
“The idea behind that (statement from Jan. 5) was relocating the Breezeway, the idea behind that was to relocate the things the Breezeway did well,” Herrian said Thursday night.
Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell, who protested the initial Breezeway removals last fall, reiterated his stance, this time regarding the permit appeal.
“People who are homeless are people. They are not different people. And our zoning rules do not differentiate, nor should they,” Ezzell said. “And I don’t want to go down the road (when) we’ve had a couple of these meetings before where we’re talking about these folks … as if they’re not people.”
The Enid Board of Adjustment will hear the appeal, most likely in March, as the city commission did not have action to take Thursday.
An appraiser-submitted list of properties owned within 300 feet of Five80 could be provided by Monday at the latest to give the board a procedural two weeks to include it on the February agenda, City Attorney Carol Lahman said.
A similar list was included on the agenda item, sent to the city planning department the same day of the appeal Tuesday, but this is included businesses rather than property owners.
Some of the businesses appealing the permit are on both the submitted list and the ones Bittle read Thursday night, while others are throughout the rest of downtown.