By AMANDA KIMBLE
STEPHENVILLE (September 7, 2016) – Good things in life don’t come easy. Jann and Kayleigh Caamano are a testament to that fact. More than a week after the couple expected to be serving up wood-fired pizzas, Cuban sandwiches and food with an island flair, they’re instead waiting for building renovations to begin.
Sure, community members have questioned the fate of the restaurant. Some have even echoed familiar allegations about a city that hinders business. But, the couple said although the project seems to be progressing at a snail’s pace, the dream is still very much alive.
They’ve been dreaming of the restaurant for a while. They walked away from careers and life in a big city to make it a reality. The process started early this year, and Kayleigh said the goal was to be operational by late August.
In the second week of September, the Caamanos are instead looking at an unfinished building, waiting for construction work to begin.
The couple applied for a building permit from the city of Stephenville almost a month ago. A process they expected to take 5-10 business days. For the Caamanos, it’s just another delay. There have been delays and confusion throughout the process.
The business venture was first stalled by a request for a special use permit. The request to serve alcoholic beverages at the restaurant was considered during the April meeting of Stephenville City Council. The council discussion centered on issues like parking, which isn’t something they should be a concern in the downtown district, where curbside parking and other parking lots are available.
One council member even suggested the Caamanos find another location, saying the building, which has also been the location of a freight company, bakery and arts and crafts studio, seemed to be “snake bit.”
But, Jann said after looking for the perfect location for some time, they fell in love with the building. The couple packed up their lives and moved from Austin for the sole purpose of opening the restaurant in Kayleigh’s hometown.
The special use permit was approved in May following a recommendation by City Administrator Pat Bridges.
The Caamanos next applied for a demolition permit. It was issued, but Buck Kelly, the city’s chief building official, said a building permit couldn’t be considered until other steps in the process were completed. The building – the old bus station at 223 East College Street in the downtown district – was constructed in 1948 and had to be cleared in accordance with state asbestos detection and remediation requirements.
“The city cannot issue a building permit until those requirements are satisfied,” Kelly said on September 2, adding an official review of the building plans would begin once a building permit application was received and the asbestos-related documentation was on file.
At another point, the process was delayed as the couple waited for a roof replacement that started later than expected. That was an issue not related to the permitting or in the city or couple’s control.
Noah Cullis, director of planning and building services for the city, said while the process seems to be drawn out, the same steps are always followed. He, at the same time, acknowledged not all applicants face as many issues and not all properties present the same conditions.
When Cullis came onboard with the city late last year he began making changes to how the department does business. The idea was to streamline the process for the city, its citizens and business owners while at the same time ensuring council adopted codes and procedures are always followed.
When building contractors or individuals, as in the case of the Caamanos, initiate the permitting process, Cullis first determines the scope of the project. When applicable, he calls on the chief building official, fire marshal, public works director and other officials for predevelopment meeting.
All involved parties typically have a week to research and prepare for the meeting. Cullis said during the subsequent roundtable discussion, each of the required steps are outlined for the applicant. They address standard procedures, as well as issues specific to the individual project, such as special use permits or variances.
“We encourage them to talk with us before making an initial investment,” Cullis said, adding the applicant is provided notes from the meeting and a checklist to ensure the project follows a required timeline to avoid unnecessary delays.
The process similar for everyone.
“It includes a complete, professional review, and we only consider the codes and regulations adopted by the city council,” Cullis said.
While it may not be readily, everyone agrees there is some progress being made despite the delays.
In the case of the Caamanos, they said once a building permit is issued, the work should progress at a steady pace. The plans include minor changes relating to plumbing and electricity, the relocation of a few interior walls and issues of compliance.
“We want to maintain the overall feel of the building itself,” Jann said, adding with their livelihood on the line, they prefer delays over cutting corners. “We want to make sure everything is done correctly.”
The grand opening of the restaurant will eventually fulfill their dream, and the Caamanos also believe it will fulfill a need for local diners seeking variety only found in larger cities.
“We will live up to the promises we made,” Jann said. “Quality and consistency at a reasonable price.”
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Read more on the proposed restaurant from The Flash.