Ryan Echaus and Amanda Cutler are exhausted.
The couple who own Atlas Meat-Free Deli
Echaus and Cutler recently took to Instagram in a series of posts addressing Commissioner Keon Hardemon to help them with permits so they can continue renovations on a building they say they purchased more than two years ago. The building, located at 98 NE 79th St., has been unoccupied since Atlas purchased it in August 2016.
Cutler says just as she and Echaus thought they were making progress, the Department of Public Works stalled the process again by requesting an easement for the sidewalks surrounding the building. The easement would give the city interest in land that's owned by Atlas.
"After going back and forth with every department 100 times to approve the plans for the permit, and after every department approved, the City of Miami Department of Public Works said they were going to make us give back a portion of the land that's a little strip of sidewalk alongside the building," Cutler explains. "They said we're going to have to dedicate it to them or basically give them title to that strip, and until we do that, they won't give us the permit stating they wanted the strip in case they ever have to expand the road."
Atlas' owners need a permit to renovate the building and continue to build out the storefront and install impact windows for hurricane season. The permit also enables them to use their kitchen to continue servicing the multiple restaurants and vendors that offer Atlas' meat-free products, as well as to run the food truck to sell their menu items. The truck is located about 30 feet from the empty building, and the couple rents a commercial kitchen in Hialeah for $2,500 a month to prepare the vendor orders.
Cutler said they've already invested in fixing about $180,000 worth of structural damage that was undetected when the building was inspected. The building was up for its 40-year recertification when Atlas purchased it. The previous owner was not able to obtain the recertification because the building was in need of repairs he could not afford. Atlas then evicted tenants that lived on the second floor of the building, pulled a demolition permit, and gutted the building to complete the work.
In response to an inquiry from New Times, the city sent the following statement:
Our Building Department shows an expired permit for that address. Our Building Department would like to work with the property owner to resolve the problem. Pending a final inspection, the property could then receive a Certificate of Occupancy. Our Building Department will be contacting the owner of record to offer assistance with the process. We are currently in the process of streamlining our permit process. Soon, property owners and their contractors will be able to apply for and manage the permit process completely online.
Cutler says that a certificate of occupancy is impossible to obtain at the moment and that they have not received communication from the city.
"The building will never qualify for a certificate of occupancy because it is completely gutted. We're just trying to get the permit to put the floor in and build the walls."
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The Atlas owners estimate they've spent about $350,000 trying to get the building ready to open. Cutler is a corporate attorney by day and decided to go back to office work to pay for the expenses after initially leaving her career to open the shop with her husband. He continues to run Atlas, and since the process began, they have consumed all of their savings, considered selling their home, and borrowed from their retirement money. Now, they face the fact they might go bankrupt, a move Cutler says would be career suicide.
She says raising awareness is not only for them but also for the many people who have struggled through similar situations. The city has acknowledged it needs to streamline the permitting process, and Michael Sarasti, the city's chief information officer and director of innovation and technology, says the city has launched a beta site hoping to ease communication with the community.
Cutler says her family and their livelihood depend upon launching Atlas. "It's not just us. I feel like we're fighting for a lot of people here. I've heard so many horror stories as we go through this process."
Atlas Meat-Free Deli. 98 NE 79th St., Miami; 305-424-8789; atlasmeatfreedeli.com.