Tortuga pergola nixed, gift shop OK’d

Guests who check in at Tortuga Inn would be able to get quick take-out under a resort expansion that earned a recommendation from the Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board.

They’d also be able to browse a new gift shop at the resort, 1325 Gulf Drive N.

The Tortuga management took away recommendations from the P&Z for a special exception that would allow for the gift shop and the take-out operations at the resort. But Tortuga didn’t take away a recommendation from the P&Z that would allow for the construction of a pergola on the resort’s private Gulf of Mexico beach.

The vote to recommend a special exception to create the gift shop and the take-out on the resort property east of Gulf Drive was unanimous.

The vote not to recommend a special exception for the pergola — first proposed as a chickee hut — on the resort’s property west of Gulf Drive also was unanimous.

“The west side failed. The east side succeeds,” planning and zoning board chair Rick Bisio said.

The city commission is expected to take up Tortuga’s requests at 7 p.m. Sept. 1 at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

The planning board’s hearing on Tortuga’s application lasted more than an hour, with David Teitelbaum explaining the resort’s interests, building official Steve Gilbert offering the city staff views and neighbors making several statements, mostly in opposition.


The west side

The plans first presented to the planning and zoning board showed a Seminole chickee hut on Tortuga’s beach. Those plans were amended last week after Gilbert determined that improvements to the parcel under a different owner meant the Tortuga was “at 30 percent building coverage and 40 percent lot coverage.”

Already at the maximum coverage, the Tortuga couldn’t erect something with a roof, Gilbert said.

“A chickee without a roof … isn’t a chickee,” he added.

So, instead Tortuga requested a 1,500-square-foot pergola.

Barbara Rodocker of neighboring Silver Surf resort said she didn’t think the proposed pergola would be “unsightly,” but other neighbors who either submitted letters or spoke during the hearing objected to the proposal or aspects of the plan.

Sandra J. Esch said the expansion would compromise the “family atmosphere” of Bermuda Bay Club, where she lives.

John Skerrett, also of Bermuda Bay, said the installation of a pergola was inconsistent with the land-use plan that identifies the property for “preservation.”

“A 1,500 square-foot structure is more in line with commercial uses than passive recreation,” he stated.

He also questioned what type of activity the pergola would attract after-hours, when it is unattended.

Michael Gallant, also of Bermuda Bay, said he would not have purchased his condominium if he had known Tortuga wanted to erect a chickee hut or a pergola on the beach.

“The beach is beautiful,” he stated. “Please leave it the way it is.”

Steve Thompson, an attorney for the Bermuda Bay Club Condominium Association, said the proposed gift shop, cafe and pergola were incompatible with the residential character of the Bermuda Bay Club.

He said the pergola would block views of the water, that the expansion could hinder access to the beach, that all three amenities would encourage partying and drinking and that the pergola would be dangerous in a storm.

“It would shower our community with spears and projectiles,” he alleged.

Teitelbaum, replying to questions about increased traffic, stressed that the expansion would serve guests, not draw the public.

He said gatherings at the pergola would not become a nuisance, and that many events already take place at the site, either on the private beach or under a tent.

Planning and zoning board members, however, expressed concerns that the installation of a pergola constituted “development” of preservation property.

Bisio recalled the agreement years ago that led to improvements on the east section of the Tortuga property. Essentially, the city said, “If we allow you to build the building over here … the land across the street goes into preservation. That’s the way this property made it into preservation.”

The chairman observed that the proposed pergola — an open structure, pole supported with a lattice top — is larger than the footprint of his home.

“It is not an insignificant thing that we are talking about here,” he said.

A chickee, because of a Florida provision guaranteeing Seminoles the opportunity to erect the huts, would be exempt from the state building code and would not need a building permit.

A pergola, however, would need a building permit, as well as engineering.

Planning board member Jo Ann Meilner said, “To me that says ‘development.’”

Gilbert replied, “Does it constitute ‘development’? That’s the question you folks and the city commission are going to get to answer.”

Teitelbaum emphasized the passive use proposed for the pergola — a gathering place to picnic, watch the sunset or commemorate a wedding.

But the planning board members eventually agreed that the structure would constitute development of the preservation land.

“I see the pergola as development, and that I can’t get around,” Meilner said.


The east side

For the gift shop and take-out cafe, the Tortuga would remodel first-floor offices.

“The gift shop and the restaurant are very much in the confines of this type of zoning area,” Bisio said, referring to the Residential-3/multi-family designation.

In addition to the P&Z endorsement, the city staff recommended approval of the special exception for the cafe and shop.

Teitelbaum, president of the Tortuga condominium association, said the gift shop, which would be about 373 square feet, would provide an opportunity for guests to purchase toiletries, food and beverages and tourist items.

“The store,” Teitelbaum said, “will have no signage, no neon, nothing. It is simply merchandise for our guests. Tortuga T-shirts and caps. Necessities. A case of beer if they need it for their house.… Very simple.”

The 359-square-foot take-out cafe would be managed by the Island Creperie on Bridge Street.

“This is not for cooking. It is for serving,” said Teitelbaum, who envisions guests requesting that the cafe stock their refrigerators ahead of their arrival or providing heated entrées for them to take to their rooms.

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