For some visitors, the Gulf Drive Cafe, 900 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach, has an appealing attraction of dining under chickee huts on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico.
For some residents, the Gulf Drive Cafe represents a different picture — traffic and lots of it.
Residents have complained about the increased traffic, noise and litter to city officials as the GDC expanded its operations, but none more so than in early 2012, when the business was granted a temporary special exception permit to hold a flea market adjacent to the restaurant.
By most accounts, the Sunday operation generated a stop-and-go-traffic scenario along Gulf Drive that stretched for more than a half mile in both directions.
The ghost of the GDC market traffic congestion was revived at a June 26 planning and zoning public hearing to consider recommending approval of a special exception use for a kayak rental station adjacent to the restaurant.
The city received several letters objecting to the proposal and about a dozen people attended the meeting. Public comment was unanimously opposed to the request.
“I called many owners to let them know what was being proposed,” said Imperial House resident Barbara Huff. “They all said, ‘Oh no, here we go again with another flea market fiasco.’”
Huff opposed the request for several reasons, including increased traffic, but said foot traffic onto Imperial House property was another concern for the condominium owners.
David Miller, a resident of Summer Sands, said there already has been a noticeable increase in traffic since GDC opened a new restaurant section.
“We have a nice parking garage, but people who aren’t supposed to be parking there love to use it,” he said.
Several other residents who live in the vicinity of GDC objected to any notion of increased traffic and the creation of additional parking issues.
Jack Glennon, owner of Kayak Jacks, based in Cortez, said he was surprised at the negative reaction to his request and that almost all of his clientele would be people already at the beach.
“It’s a witch hunt that has to do with the Gulf Drive Cafe owners,” said Glennon. “I don’t want to be blacklisted because people have problems with something in the past. The bottom line is that the property is commercial and the owner has a right to do what she wants. I’m just a small business guy and shouldn’t be judged on something that has nothing to do with me.”
The planning and zoning board agreed, voting 3-1 to recommend approval with stipulations.
P&Z member Bob Dale said he listened to the comments, which included opinions that the GDC put profit before good neighbor policies and public safety, particularly with regard to inexperienced kayak users around swimmers.
“I understand their concerns,” he said. “Who makes money is irrelevant. And the concerns about safety? There is no cure for stupid.”
Dale said the property is zoned commercial and that’s all that matters in relation to the codes and the P&Z’s decision.
P&Z member Dan DeBaum said the special exception was appropriate for the type of land use designated for the property.
“There seems to be a lot of concern about the sins of those associated with this business,” said DeBaum. “I’m not sure that is relevant to this discussion. I also don’t see a significant change that would create a traffic increase.”
P&Z chair Pat Whitesel voted against the recommendation, saying the situation needed to be looked at more closely. However, Whitesel said the references to Gulf Drive Cafe’s history with the public was not an issue for P&Z.
“I think it’s sad there is some reference to the property owners,” she said. “We do not even listen to that. We are here to discuss what Jack needs to do on the property.”
Dale, DeBaum and Barbara Curtis voted to recommend approval. The stipulations to the special exception include limiting hours of operation to 8 a.m.-4 p.m., reducing the number of craft allowed from 12 to eight, and no signage associated with kayak rentals could be displayed on Gulf Drive.
Other stipulations include that rental operations be a minimum distance of 25 feet from Gulf Drive and that no rental equipment be on the beach, with the exception of transport from the rental kiosk to the water.
Glennon’s operation will be portable. He plans to unload his equipment and kiosk for transport to his beach location in the mornings and remove all equipment at the end of each day.
No one who spoke during public comment was against Kayak Jacks as a business. The opposition was primarily location based. Glennon conducted a two-day trial run at the GDC before approaching the city for a permit.
“It’s a great rental location,” he said. “It’s a pretty spot. In two days, it turned into a fabulous beach walk-up spot.”
In other P&Z matters, the board addressed what city officials required for a cleanup of the land development code.
Lot 10, block H of the Azure Shores subdivision is a city-owned piece of property used for parking. However, the property is zoned Residential 3.
Garrett appeared before the P&Z board asking to change the existing residential use to a public/semi-public use.
“It’s currently being used as a city parking facility, but parking is not allowed,” he said. “The main purpose of this request is to bring the property into compliance with the comprehensive plan.”
After being reassured the change in zoning would not create an environment for commercial development, the board voted unanimously to recommend approval to the city commission, which makes the final determination.