Commissioners agree to revise Anna Maria’s liquor ordinance

Anna Maria commissioners agreed May 23 to change the city liquor ordinance, which presently prohibits restaurants that opened after 1987 from selling mixed drinks and alcoholic beverages other than beer and wine.

Waterfront Restaurant owner Jason Suzor proposed that restaurants allowed to only serve beer and wine be given a five-year probationary period to sell liquor.

Suzor suggested that restaurants be required to maintain a minimum of 60 percent of sales from food and no more than 40 percent from liquor.

Suzor, who has owned the Waterfront since 2002, said the city presently only allows restaurants — with the exception of the Sandbar — to serve beer and wine. He said many of his customers have expressed a desire to have a mixed drink, such as martinis and margaritas, but his restaurant is limited by the city as to what it serves.

The state, not the city, regulates liquor licenses. A special SRX license allows restaurants with 150 seats and meeting a number of other provisions, including deriving 51 percent of its revenue from food and non-alcoholic beverages, to qualify for a license.

Other restaurants obtain a quota license, which are limited in quantity according to county population, and are bought and sold much like real estate.

The city further limits the locations and hours of liquor service.

Commissioners agreed that changes are needed and they will discuss Suzor’s ideas in a workshop with the goal to allow city attorney Jim Dye and city planner Alan Garrett to draft an ordinance.

Dye said it likely would be a long process to reach a final ordinance, but Suzor said anything is better than the present situation.

Neighbors of the Waterfront expressed concern that Suzor might sell liquor until midnight, creating a noise issue. But Suzor said the restaurant closes at 9 p.m. weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends and he has no plans to change his hours.

Commissioner Chuck Webb suggested a three-strike rule — if the city receives three complaints about loud noise or rowdy behavior on the premises, the restaurant could lose the right to sell liquor.

Even if the city adopts a new ordinance, Suzor said the cost of a quota liquor license in Manatee County is now about $150,000.

“I’m pleased the city is moving forward on this, and I look forward to providing input,” Suzor said. “I don’t think it’s something that can be done in a short time, but the ordinance would be for all restaurants that qualify to apply for a liquor license. I’m not just talking for the Waterfront,” Suzor said.

A number of people spoke in support of Suzor’s request, referring to him a responsible business owner.

Resident Doug Copeland, who served in 1987 on the planning and zoning board, said the city adopted the ordinance to halt a proliferation of bars and restaurants that were more interested in loud music than food. Only the Sandbar Restaurant remains grandfathered as other locations have since closed.

Copeland agreed that Suzor would be a responsible restaurant owner if allowed to have a liquor license.

In other business, commissioners:

• Denied a four-part variance request from Ed and Becky Kobel of North Shore Drive.

• Continued the second reading of the historic preservation ordinance to 6 p.m. June 13.

• Adopted an ordinance establishing the living-area ratio-to-lot-size. Passage of the LAR ordinance ended the building moratorium in the city.

The ordinance states that living area is defined as that area under air conditioning, and is the total living space of all habitable floors, Garrett said.

Under the LAR ordinance, new homes on lots of 5,000-square-feet to 10,000 square feet could have the first floor of living space 40 percent building coverage, with the second habitable floor under air at 33 percent of the 40 percent total.

The building coverage in the ordinance declines as the size of the lot increases.

The ordinance was clarified to define total living area as the sum of the habitable floors under air conditioning.

Dye also included a variance process for anyone who wants to build under the previous building code or wants an exception to the ordinance. He said this would supersede anyone claiming the city was taking away property values under the 1995 Bert Harris Jr. property rights act adopted by the Florida Legislature.

In another matter, commissioners agreed with Mayor SueLynn and building official Bob Welch that the city must issue citations to business sign owners whose signs don’t comply with city code.

Welch said real estate signs are the biggest problem, and he will contact real estate agents about coming into compliance.

Commissioners also agreed to discuss sign limits.

Regarding Pine Avenue, Commissioner Gene Aubry presented a view of how the street might look if the commission put the rulebook away. Aubry would have landscaping and crosswalks at every intersection and 90-degree parking.

He said his plan could make Anna Maria the greenest city in Florida, and promised more tweaks if a work session took place.

The next commission meeting is 6 p.m. Thursday, June 13, at Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.

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