A new liquor store might not be in Anna Maria’s future, but change is coming to the city commission.
Vice Mayor Brian Seymour was deliberately absent from the Aug. 29 commission discussion on amending the city’s liquor ordinance, which apparently arose after the city learned Seymour was planning to open a new business, a package liquor store.
The current city ordinance prohibits package liquor sales at establishments within 2,500 feet of a church.
Seymour resigned Aug. 30 in a letter to Mayor Dan Murphy, a day after the commission voted 4-0 in his absence against the amendment.
He was elected to the commission in 2016 and 2018 and was midway in his second term.
Seymour, who owns the Anna Maria General Store at 503 Pine Ave., told The Islander he had a verbal agreement on a long-term lease for a vacant store at 501 Pine Ave., across from Roser Memorial Community Church at 512 Pine Ave.
He also planned a $350,000 liquor license purchase after city planner Robin Meyer told him there were no legal issues with his proposal.
But city attorney Becky Vose intervened, telling Seymour that Meyer’s assessment was incorrect.
She then was directed by Murphy to draft an amendment to the city ordinance that would allow Seymour’s package liquor store.
Seymour told The Islander Aug. 29 that he was advised by Murphy and Vose not to attend the meeting because he stood to gain from the outcome.
His absence was excused, although he had not filed a conflict of interest, saying in an Aug. 31 text to The Islander that he didn’t expect a vote. He assumed the commission would set a date for a public hearing.
At the meeting, Vose explained Seymour’s plan, telling the commission he was planning to open a second storefront to sell package liquor near his existing store.
Time was of the essence, she said, explaining the planning and zoning board would first need a review, and the commission would need to hold two public hearings before adopting the amendment.
Commissioner Carol Carter said at the meeting she was concerned a liquor store would bring congestion to Pine Avenue, adding that she hadn’t had time to speak to constituents about the issue.
Commissioner Dale Woodland said the distance requirement was adopted to prevent an abundance of liquor establishments in the city, and it faced little to no opposition on passage.
Commissioner Doug Copeland agreed but said the ordinance “has been liberalized” several times since it was instituted in 1987.
He allowed that the city could ensure any future owners of the liquor store maintain the same terms as Seymour’s proposed business.
Commissioner Amy Tripp stood by the current ordinance, including the distance requirement.
Copeland motioned to deny a public reading for the amendment and Woodland seconded the motion. There was no public comment.
Seymour said in view of the commission’s vote, he was looking to get out of agreements for the lease and the liquor license.
He said he had until Aug. 29 to pay a $35,000 security deposit for the storefront and a Sept. 13 deadline to close the contract on the state license.
He also said he would only use the license for package sales and the proposed amendment would retain the city’s prohibition for sale of alcohol for on-site consumption within 2,500 feet of a church.
“This ordinance was enacted in 1987. This island was a far different place then,” he said. “Basically, the way it is set up now, it creates a monopoly for Bortell’s Lounge to be the only package liquor store in our entire city, and nobody else can open one.”
“And guess what? Bortell’s has been closed for two years.”
The commission has exempted several businesses within 2,500 feet of Roser from restrictions against selling alcohol, including Seymour’s Pine Avenue General Store. Other exceptions were for the Anna Maria City Pier and the Waterfront Restaurant.
“They voted not to even hear the reading, so then we could go in front of them and present our case,” he said. “I really feel like I’ve been robbed of my due process. As a resident and business owner of the city, to not even be given a chance to come and speak and talk about what changes we’d like to see in the ordinance, it’s really a slap in the face.”
“They all talk about how they are for the business district, but really their votes, especially lately, show they’re not,” he continued.
Seymour said Copeland was the first to challenge his proposed business and noted that previous commissions, including Carter, Copeland and Woodland, exempted other businesses.
“In my opinion, it is a blatant attack on me,” he said.
Copeland declined to comment Aug. 29.