Mount Vernon Helps Popular Restaurant Open After Fire; Lincoln Barbeque is Back in Business and City is Richer for It; Mayor Thomas Emphasizes Role of Quality of Life Task Force
On a windy, rainy morning this April, a fire that started in the ceiling swept through 68 East Lincoln Avenue in Mount Vernon. When it was brought under control four hours later, the restaurant below was gutted.
For Burt Dones, the owner of Lincoln Barbeque, which specializes in Portuguese dishes, the future looked bleak. “I didn’t know if I would be able to reopen,” he said. “I wanted to, but I just didn’t know.”
This week, Lincoln Barbeque is back in business thanks to help from Mayor Richard Thomas and members of his administration who worked closely with the restaurant to clear all the hurdles necessary to rebuild and reopen. In fact, a plan was worked out for Lincoln Barbeque to open a takeout operation in the back of the building this summer, creating a revenue stream while the dining room was being rebuilt.
“Every business is important to Mount Vernon, so we try to do everything we can to keep the businesses here open and thriving,” Mayor Thomas said, at a press conference on Friday at Lincoln Barbeque. “We want to be a partner to the people willing to invest in our city. Lincoln Barbeque with its Portuguese flair adds to Mount Vernon’s vitality and diversity. We are proud to have them and even prouder to have been able to keep them here.”
The story of Lincoln Barbeque is part of a broader effort to promote and preserve the things that make Mount Vernon an attractive place to live and work. Earlier this year, Mayor Thomas launched a Quality of Life Task Force, a multi-department initiative designed to partner with businesses and building owners to ensure the city’s laws and codes are delivering their intended benefits.
“Codes and ordinances are the foundation of a city’s quality of life,” said Mayor Thomas. “The task force is a set of eyes with broad vision across departments to make sure laws are enforced so services are delivered efficiently, and the health and safety of residents are protected.”
This fall, the task force, which includes members of the Buildings, Fire, Public Works, and Consumer Protection Departments, as well as the city’s Ordinance Officer and local law enforcement, conducted 65 inspections. The most frequent violations uncovered were:
1. Absence of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
2. Absence of emergency lights and exit signs.
3. Insufficient egress and blocked emergency exits.
4. Expired or no certificates of occupancy and certificates of tenancy.
5. Unsanitary conditions in food establishments.
In addition, the task force also followed up on complaints from neighborhoods and tenants regarding rat infestations, piles of garbage and debris and foul odors.
Buildings Commissioner Dan Jones said the task force plays three roles. First, educate businesses and building owners about the various laws and ordinances that apply to them; second, inform them about the consequences of noncompliance; and third, try to find solutions that are mutually beneficial.
“Most businesses are receptive to working with the Quality of Life Task Force because cooperation is the fastest, cheapest and best path to compliance,” Jones said, adding that in several cases strong partnerships have emerged to expedite solutions.
But he added delay and defiance were unacceptable. For example, one building owner had his elevator taken out of service and was issued a summons to appear in court after the elevator, found to be out of compliance, had harmed an elderly resident.
“The laws and codes are there to protect people,” said Jones, whose department is the lead agency on the task force. “Our obligation is to ensure compliance and when we find noncompliance we take the necessary steps to correct problems.”
As a next step, Jones said the Task Force would be using a grant to set up meetings and outreach to increase the engagement of tenants, landlords, businesses, churches, and neighborhood associations. “We want to build bridges into the community,” said Jones. “The idea is to marshal the influence of these and other stakeholders to improve code enforcement and by extension quality of life.”
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