The flocks of people who find their way to the picnic tables outside of Flaco’s Cuban Bakery late at night might have to find a new place to congregate.
Flaco’s has used its adjacent one-way street as a patio area since 2020 when Gainesville implemented the Streatery program to help downtown businesses create outdoor dining options.
In a 4-1 vote on Thursday, the Gainesville City Commission voted to reopen traffic on Northwest Second Avenue and redesign the street use as a compromise between the business and the community.
“I think the neighborhood has collaborated very well during the time that it’s been closed, but now we need to get back to trying to preserve our neighborhoods,” Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said.
The street closure caused a backlash from Pleasant Street residents over vehicle and emergency access. One of the only points of access from West University Avenue to Eighth Avenue crossing the Pleasant Street neighborhood, the street blockage strained traffic and complicated routes.
The change to a “sidewalk cafe” would bring a solution for both the residents and the business. Through traffic would return while the parallel parking spots and the wider East sidewalk would be designated as outdoor dining space for the restaurant.
Flaco’s regularly hosts a variety of events in its patio area, ranging from open mics to punk and drag shows. Owner Sarah Puyana says she uses Flaco’s to hold events that give minorities a space.
Earlier this month, following a split vote on the same issue, Puyana started a petition to keep the patio area. It received over 500 signatures.
After meeting with neighbors and discussing possible solutions, the business owner compromised and agreed to support the “sidewalk cafe” option.
“I just wanted to thank you for giving us this space during COVID when we really needed it,” Puyana said. “At this point, I don’t want to keep the fight going, especially if my neighbors are going to be happy and I can just have a couple of seats for those who might have immune problems and need to eat outside. I think it works for everyone.”
Mayor Lauren Poe worried that the opening of the street will cause people to “cut through” the neighborhood. As it stands right now, the lack of direct access between Eighth and University Avenues funnels traffic to either Sixth Avenue or Main Street, which are both roads designed for higher densities of traffic than Northwest Second Avenue, Poe said.
“I do not think turning public space like this over to cars is in the best interest of most of our community, but I do want to honor the collaboration between the neighborhood and the business,” Poe said. “It’s not a hill I’ll die on.”
Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who voted against opening the street, worries that using the East sidewalk on the half-block as an extension of the eatery would press a safety issue for pedestrians. The area isn’t directly adjacent to Flaco’s property and would now stand across the street, meaning guests would have to cross the lane to access the outdoor seating.
But this specific layout isn’t definite yet — county staff was asked by the commission to study effective, viable and safe “sidewalk cafe” options.
Pleasant Street resident Tana Silva, who mentioned in her public comment that the meeting marked 27 years since she had moved to the neighborhood, advocated for the reopening of the street.
“It’s ridiculous to think that closing down one little street that’s been there for a hundred years is somehow a safety thing,” Silva said. “I don’t really understand how the city can give a public space to one business.”
Gainesville Historic Preservation Board member Michael Hill also asked the commission to support the reopening of the street. He criticized the accessibility challenge that the road closure posed for Pleasant Street residents.
“If you have urban design that is exclusionary, it’s nothing better than exclusionary zoning,” Hill said. “The permanent street closure with no access for vehicles is a form of exclusionary [design].”
Hill said it was “the best solution possible so far” but thinks it could’ve been better.
He’d like to see Streateries that aren’t only pedestrian-friendly but also accommodate vehicles. He mentions temporary bollards that could block vehicle access during designated times and allow it during others.
“Basically, this is what you do: Monday to Thursday, it’s used for cars, then Friday to Saturday or Sunday morning, it’s used for people,” Hill said. “Boom, you’ve got full utilization of the space, and nobody is left out in the dust.”
The commission had previously voted on Aug. 4 to keep the portion of Southwest First Avenue that goes from Second Street to Main Street pedestrian-only. The now-permanent Streatery is home to businesses like Loosey’s, The Bull, Crane Ramen and If It Is Kitchen & Cafe.