A restaurant exploded and rules changed. 7 years later, Greenville paid $1M to settle up. | Greenville Business

Robert C. Williams

GREENVILLE — The footprint of Spero Conits’ restaurant can still be made out on the steaming hot asphalt where the hookups for plumbing and electrical are still in the ground. Even the decoratively paved entrance into what was once Spero’s Pete’s Original Two restaurant remains.

It’s reminder of a moment in time — seven years to the day since the longtime Greek restauranteur stared sullenly at the contorted shell of his business, hours after a freak rainstorm caused the building to explode.

In that seven years, Conits has been engaged in a legal battle with the city of Greenville over its refusal to let him rebuild on the flat land at the corner of East Stone Avenue and East North Street, across from a city fire station.



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The battle is finally over.






Spero's Pete's Original Two restaurant lot

The entrance pavement to the destroyed Spero’s Pete’s Original Two restaurant still remains at the corner of East Stone Avenue and East North Street on a lot that has sat vacant for seven years after the restaurant exploded during a rainstorm. June 18, 2021.



This week, City Council approved a $1 million settlement with Conits.

In the settlement approved unanimously June 14, the city said it maintains it did not unfairly deprive Conits of the right to use his property without just compensation, but that “the parties have nevertheless determined that it is in their mutual interests to resolve the lawsuit in a settlement and release of claims.”

The case, alleging an illegal “taking” by the city, moved in and out of federal and state court since it was filed in 2018. In the end, Conits told The Post and Courier in an interview June 18, he just wanted a fair price.

“I didn’t want to be an enemy of the city, so we worked it out, and I think it’ll be OK,” he said.

The night of Aug. 9, 2014, a storm cell parked over a small area north of downtown Greenville and within a matter of a few hours dropped six inches of rain. The resulting flooding turned deadly, as a couple stranded with their stalled car on Haywood Road died after being swept into a storm drain.



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The Spero’s Pete’s Original Two was Conits’ second location, opened in 2008 after decades of success at the well-known original restaurant downtown on Pendleton Street started by his immigrant father, John, and mother, Athena.

The Stone Avenue restaurant operated along nearby Richland Creek, a tributary that feeds into the Reedy River downstream at Cleveland Park. The creek was notorious for jumping its banks during heavy rains.

But not like this.



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Floodwaters inundated the restaurant and extinguished pilot lights in appliances, which created a natural gas leak that caused the explosion. The building was later torn down but with Conits’ full intention to rebuild.

He soon found out that the laws in place when he first renovated the restaurant building in 2008 no longer applied. Days after the flood, City Council voted to update its flood maps that restrict development. The changes were already in motion before the rainstorm.

In 2016, the city’s building codes division denied his permit to build. A year later, the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals voted to uphold the department’s decision, which itself was later upheld by a state judge.

In April 2019, the city passed an amendment to its stormwater regulations that would allow Conits to rebuild his restaurant. But the new provision allowed only a replacement for a previous commercial business originally built under applicable law. The stipulation greatly devalued the resale value of the property and allowed the city to essentially have a passive greenspace to accommodate flooding, he said.



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The settlement approved by City Council calls for the land to be divided so that Conits can keep part of it and a building he owns that houses a barber shop.

It also stipulates that the city will turn the half acre of land it will own into a passive park — one that specifically honors Conits’ late parents.

According to the settlement, a plaque will be installed to honor their story of immigration from Greece as teenagers during World War II to become successful restaurateurs in Greenville, like so many Greek families that opened separate variations of Pete’s restaurants across the Upstate.

Follow Eric on Twitter at @cericconnor.

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