Calling it “one of the most deteriorated (properties) that we have currently in town,” Cinnaminson’s township committee decided Monday to order exterior improvements at Paula’s Family’s Restaurant.
But thanks to missing site plans for the diner—which has stood since at least the 1960s—fixing problems could be a convoluted process.
“Paula’s came in and indicated they were changing ownership—it’s pretty common knowledge they were going to be under new ownership called Cinnaminson Diner,” said Deputy Mayor Anthony Minniti. “Until they found out they would be subjected to our site plan ordinance, at which point everyone became confused on the ownership.”
There are a few things Cinnaminson officials know for sure: signage at the diner changed without township permission. Plus, Minniti—who called the property deteriorated—identified several code issues.
“At visual inspection, there is a crumbling retaining wall, the landscape is overgrown and has flowed to the parking lot, the parking lot is in need of repaving, the signage clearly was not approved in any application,” he ticked off.
“And it’s lacking Dumpster enclosures, which should have been installed five to seven years ago. The fact that this is a food establishment and doesn’t have proper Dumpster enclosures is even more egregious. And there’s been some sort of power truck parked in the rear lot now for the better part of a month and a half.”
Most of those are maintenance code enforcement issues that officials can address immediately. But for larger issues, including the signage and the building’s conformity to its intended use, officials need the original site plan.
Only problem? No one can find it. No one’s even sure when it was approved.
Paula’s was previously known as Gabriel’s and before that, Perkins, according to the oral history offered by residents at Monday’s committee meeting. As best as anyone recalls, Perkins first opened in 1964. That’s about a decade after Cinnaminson began requiring site plan approvals—but many records from 1976 and prior were destroyed in a flood in 1992.
While township employees search for the original site plan, or at least the minutes of the meeting when it was discussed, officials will move forward with enforcing property maintenance codes.
“It’s clear that the owner is willfully intending to circumvent his obligations to improve his property,” Minniti said, “and if that’s going to be the case, my opinion is we have to utilize whatever necessary to bring it into compliance.”
The town committee meeting occurred after business hours and Patch was unable to contact Paula’s for comment. Check back with Cinnaminson Patch for a follow-up story.