Restaurant’s closure highlights frustrations with permitting process

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A car crashed into the outer wall of Sumela in July.

by Jordan Green

The city’s permitting process has been in the spotlight with the temporary closure of Sumela restaurant after a motorist smashed into it in July, but repair work is finally underway.

More than two months after a motorist drove into the building that houses Sumela Turkish & Mediterranean Restaurant in High Point, repair work is finally underway.

Based on estimates by the property owner and business owner it could be another six weeks before the restaurant reopens.

“It’s been a long haul,” said Paul Siceloff, who owns the building with his brothers. “On July 13, this maniac wrecks the building and two units are condemned: 805 N. Main, which is Sumela, along with 803-B. That tenant there is an interior designer. It held up her opening up shop; she had started to lease the space. It’s really critical to the restaurant. He’s kind of got to start from scratch.”

Located in the heart of the medical district anchored by High Point Regional Hospital — an area sandwiched between the central business district and Uptowne — Sumela is a popular lunch spot and something of a culinary institution in the city. The months-long interruption of service at the restaurant has thrown into relief the city’s permitting process, which has been pilloried by some for unnecessary delays and bureaucratic hoops.

“We had to go through all the hurdles of getting city approval to rebuild,” Siceloff said. “We were told we had to get an architectural design, which we did.”

Siceloff said he and his brothers had hired Burton Builders to repaint the building and remodel the patio at Sumela about two years ago. They were happy with the work, so after the building was damaged in July, they hired the contractor outright rather than put the project out to bid.

“They have overseen the architects’ drawings, the city permits,” Siceloff said. “The city came back to us and said, ‘You’ve got to get electrical drawings and plumbing drawings.’ The city got the electrical drawings and the plumbing drawings.”

Mehmet Cakal, who owns Sumela, also expressed frustration.

“To me, it seems like it wasn’t urgent for them to jump in and speed the process,” he said. “It’s kind of laid back, work on their schedule, and not considering the business we’re losing everyday.”

Lee Burnette, the planning director for the city said staff took 15 business days, or three weeks, to issue the permits after receiving required submittals from the contractor. Based on the damage to the building, the repair work required review for fire, electrical and plumbing, he said, adding that the only review that wasn’t required was mechanical, considering that the HVAC system wasn’t damaged.

Because staff is transitioning from paper to an electronic review system and they’re ramping up for furniture market in October, Burnette said the time spent on permitting for Sumela is reasonable.

“That’s not a very long time considering,” he said. “It went through everything but mechanical review.”

Burnette added that 10 to 12 days is standard for planning departments in 10 to 12 days. He said that as staff gets accustomed to the new electronic review system, the process should go faster.

“In High Point, when 30 to 60 days before market comes the big crunch for construction because of the showrooms that have to be retrofitted,” Burnette said. “They become a priority because there is a definitive deadline for market. We try to accommodate everyone.”   

Siceloff said this is the first time he’s dealt with the permitting process, so he doesn’t have a good benchmark against which to objectively measure the speed and efficiency of the process.

“It’s been tedious,” he said. “We had somebody say, ‘You know what? You should have been able to get that permit in four hours.’ Well, okay, great. I was only told that three days ago. [It was] somebody who supposedly should know. It kind of iced the cake of our frustration.”

The contractor obtained their building permit on Sept. 17, allowing them to start repairing the wall and fix utilities. Siceloff said the contractor has told him that the exterior repairs should be complete in two to three weeks.

Once repairs by the property owner are complete, Cakal will still need to retrofit the interior and obtain necessary permits from the Guilford County Department of Public Health before the restaurant can reopen.

“I will take the steps, submitting the plan to the health department, replacing damaged equipment, clean up and get re-inspected from the health department,” he said. “I’m looking at maybe three weeks. Siceloff said the delays have hurt Sumela the most.

“We’re hurt because we’re losing rent for three and a half months, but nothing compared to what Sumela is going through,” he said. “I hope that they can reopen soon and that our interior designer can open. I hope we don’t lose her.”

Cakal said he wonders if he will be able to retain out-of-town customers who see the restaurant is closed, and stop coming back. But most locals understand the situation, and many have told them that they are waiting for Sumela to reopen.

“It’s affected everybody,” he said. “We have [eight] employees, and other businesses benefit from our business. It’s affected everybody mentally and financially.”