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Date of Issue: May 12, 2010

Commission debates chickee hut happenings

An aerial view of the chickee hut at the Gulf Drive Cafe in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

Special event requests typically get included on a catch-all consent agenda unanimously approved by the Bradenton Beach City Commission.

Not so May 6 for requests to hold a Memorial Day cookout and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day brunches in the new chickee hut at the Gulf Drive Cafe, 900 Gulf Drive N.

The commission voted 4-1 to approve the requests, with Commissioner Janie Robertson voting “nay,” but not before a somewhat tense discussion.

Private events can take place in the chickee without city approval, but, under city code, the public, beachfront events are considered “special events” that must be approved by the commission.

Robertson had asked to pull the three special event requests from the agenda for discussion.

“I hate to be such a wet blanket,” Robertson said, opening the discussion.

Her primary objection to the special event requests was, she said, the Gulf Drive Cafe is in the midst of an expansion.

The beachfront chickee hut is complete and recently the parking lot across the street was improved, but the development plan approved by the planning and zoning commission and the city commission also called for a gift shop and a tiki hut, which would serve as a bar, and, unlike the chickee hut, be supplied with utility services.

Robertson said when the cafe sought city approval for the project, it did not present a “phased-in project construction-wise.… We’ve got a full project here that was passed.… To this date, only the chickee hut has been done.”

Robertson said allowing the public events to take place was a concern because she considers the location a construction site.

“The space between the old restaurant and the chickee hut is still a construction zone,” Robertson said.

She added, “Up until a few weeks ago, there was yellow construction tape all around that area.… The public is being invited to walk across this construction site to this facility, to these tables, to sit and eat. How come the public is allowed to traverse a construction site?”

Peter Barreda, catering/events coordinator for the cafe, defended the requests and the progress of the development project.

Barreda said the restaurant would soon begin work on other components of the development project.

“We’re just waiting on a few more things,” he said. “This has been a long, ongoing project.”

He said the expansion already is attracting tourists and will add jobs.

“This is nothing but a positive for this town,” Barreda said.

Presently, he added, the site has been cleaned up, with solar lamps lighting the way to the chickee hut on a new path with landscaping.

“So people aren’t walking through a construction zone,” Barreda said, adding that any liability concerns rest with the restaurant owners, not the city.

Mid-way through the discussion, Mayor Michael Pierce asked building official Steve Gilbert to address the issue.

Gilbert explained that the development involves more than one building project and that the chickee hut could be used before other elements of the expansion are completed.

“This would not be considered a phased development,” he said, adding that several permits for several projects are being issued under “a development board.”

However, Gilbert said the fire marshal had some questions about the special events — such as how many people will be in the chickee hut, how furniture will be arranged and how food will be prepared and served.

As commissioners moved closer to closing discussion and a vote, Commissioner Gay Breuler said, “I can’t see what the problem is Janie.… Part of the plan is done and part of the plan isn’t done.”

“They are trying to hold a party on an incomplete project,” Robertson replied, adding that the city was setting a precedent.

City attorney Ricinda Perry suggested amending the special event requests to stipulate that the events not take place without the fire marshal approving the floor plans and that a diagram also must  indicate traffic and parking details.

Breuler’s motion to approve the events with the stipulation passed 4-1.