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Date of Issue: February 20, 2008

Outdoor dining back on menu in Holmes Beach

Outdoor dining comes and goes on the Holmes Beach city commissioners’ meeting menu. Last week the board agreed to return to the issue for another taste.

The decision to go for another helping, reached during a meeting Feb. 12 at city hall, was prompted by a request for additional outdoor seating from the owners of Skinny’s Place, 3901 Gulf Drive.

“We would ask that the commission either change the current outdoor seating ordinance or grant Skinny’s a special exception for more outdoor seating,” Skinny’s owner Jan Freeman wrote in a recent letter to Commissioner David Zaccagnino. “We understand why an outdoor seating ordinance was put into place several years ago due to the smoking law. However, in our case at least, it’s not about people sitting outside to smoke.”

Freeman made the case that Skinny’s customers, and those of other restaurants in Holmes Beach, are drawn to the Island for its sunny atmosphere and want to dine outside.

The number of people who want to dine outside is too high for the allotment of eight outdoor dining seats, Skinny’s maintains. Last year the restaurant owners went before the code enforcement board over a citation for violating the seating regulations.

The rules were adopted after Florida lawmakers banned smoking in most public locations. Holmes Beach city officials enacted a policy intended to help restaurants appease smokers.

“When the smoking ban came along, we decided to be the nice guys,” said Sandy Haas-Martens, the commission chair.

At the time, the commission decided to allow each restaurant a limited number of outdoor dining spots. “We gave eight as a gift,” Haas-Martens said.

“It was done without regard to parking,” said Mayor Rich Bohnenberger.

The mayor and commissioners discussed the issue at length last week before deciding to ask the city attorney to review the outdoor dining ordinance and determine whether outdoor dining requests can be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Commissioner Pat Morton said he didn’t oppose increasing the number of outdoor dining seats at a restaurant provided safety concerns can be met. Morton said since the city revised the outdoor dining rules, he’s been apprehensive about seating patrons too close to traffic and parked cars.

“I think, in certain areas, people are in harm’s way,” said Morton, adding that he talked with Skinny’s management about moving the restaurant’s outdoor tables to the north side of the building.

Commissioner John Monetti, who manages the Columbia Restaurant on St. Armands Circle, acknowledged the attraction of outdoor dining.

After renovating the Columbia last year, Monetti removed indoor tables to dramatically increase his outdoor seating.

“People want to sit outside. ... And it benefits the Island,” Monetti said, adding he wants the commission to find a balance that best serves the interests of tourists, residents and restaurant owners.

Commissioner Pat Geyer, who owns Duffy’s Tavern, 5805 Marina Drive, remained quiet through most of the discussion. She did acknowledge the enthusiasm the public has for outdoor dining and that she has space to increase her outdoor seating if allowed.

Haas-Martens reminded commissioners that restaurants already have the option of increasing their outdoor dining space provided they decrease the number of seats inside to meet parking requirements or create additional parking spaces.

But Zaccagnino returned to his argument that perhaps seating need not be tied to parking, or perhaps the number of seats allotted each restaurant could be increased from eight to 10 or 12.

“As long as we have a site plan,” Zaccagnino said.

In other business, the commission:

  • Endorsed a resolution urging state lawmakers to act on a range of issues - from affordable housing to transportation - during the 2008 legislative session.
  • Reviewed a draft ordinance intended to clarify a provision allowing neighbor agreements in the recently adopted docks ordinance.

“This is just saying what we intended to say in plain English,” Haas-Martens said of the proposed language change to the ordinance, which was years in the making.

  • Authorized the mayor to write a letter supporting the appointment of Beverly Neville to the Manatee County Library Board, replacing Joan Pettigrew, who has resigned.
  • Approved the mayor’s request to proceed with efforts intended to revise the city’s flood plain policies.

“We need to revise our method of doing business,” Bohnenberger said.

“Anything we can do to help lower flood insurance,” Haas-Martens said.

  • Reviewed Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport passenger statistics - which show an increase from about a million in 2003 to nearly 1.5 million in 2007.
  • Reviewed a preliminary site plan for an office building at the corner of Gulf Drive and Manatee Avenue. (See separate story.)

Also during the meeting, the mayor informed commissioners that city officials continue to work on establishing a golf-cart crossing at Gulf Drive and East Bay Drive and to further plans to create a nature preserve at Grassy Point.

Bohnenberger also announced plans to recognize city employees during a ceremony at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, and organize a “Founders’ Day” celebration in the city in April.

“The date has not been set yet,” the mayor said of the event.

The next commission meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.