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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Re-vote gets Sandbar approval from P&Z
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If at first you don't succeed, try again.

After nearly three hours of testimony, Anna Maria's planning and zoning board on Monday at first rejected a motion to recommend approval of the Sandbar restaurant site plan by a 4-3 margin.

That brought a gasp from the mostly pro-Sandbar audience and prompted Sandbar attorney Rucinda Perry to note that the city's own land planner said the site plan conforms to the comprehensive plan and land development codes. If that's the case, the board is supposed to approve the application, she said.

City Attorney Jim Dye agreed - that's what Florida law states.

P&Z Chairman Chris Collins, who voted against the motion, said the Sandbar could still get approval from the city commission. "We've done everything we can" after nearly eight months of meetings on the alleyway swap and site plan.

Not quite everything.

Board member Doug Copeland quickly polled those who voted against the recommendation for their major objection to the plan. The consensus was that the Sandbar could still load and unload delivery trucks on city streets and board members were concerned about that issue.

If that's the case, suggested Copeland, how about a new motion with a stipulation that the Sandbar will provide off-street loading and unloading.

We'll do that, said Sandbar owner Ed Chiles.

That saved the day, at least for now, as board members passed the motion by a 6-1 vote with Margaret Jenkins dissenting.

Other stipulations are that the proposed pavilion for special events will be limited to food consumption and assembly. The pavilion is conditional on passage of an outdoor dining ordinance by the city commission. Chiles agreed to add bicycle parking and a time line for all the improvements.

Chiles said his best estimate was about three years to spend around $200,000 out of his own pocket for the improvements.

Construction of new rest rooms that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act will be the first order of business, he said, followed by the paved walkways, parking lot improvements, drainage improvements - subject to a Southwest Florida Water Management District permit - construction of the pavilion and a canopy over the existing outdoor deck.

The site plan had been reviewed by city planner Alan Garrett, who said it complied with the city's comprehensive plan and land development codes.

But not everyone agreed with those findings.

Attorney Mike Gallaher, representing adjacent land owner William Nally, presented his own land planner, Jan Norsoph, who had a number of objections.

Norsoph claimed the Sandbar site plan needed several variances for approval, and said the Sandbar should build a solid wall along the Nally property to provide protection from vehicle headlights, parking lot surface dust and flooding from the proposed retention pond. The canopy setback should be seven feet from the alleyway, not five feet, he said.

Chiles agreed to the seven-foot setback for the canopy covering the outdoor deck.

Perry noted that the Nallys had built their house in a commercial zone and had received special permission to build on that property. "This is not a residential area," she said. "It was the Nallys' choice to live in a commercial area."

Chiles had originally needed to just make his rest rooms ADA compliant to satisfy a federal lawsuit against the restaurant, but decided to pursue other modifications at the popular eatery at the same time.

A proposed alleyway swap with the city to allow construction of the rest rooms was passed by the P&Z two months ago, but was conditional on site plan approval.

Chiles said the the city accepted the swap and the site plan, he would pay for all alleyway modifications and the drainage plan out of his own pocket and pay for maintenance and upkeep.

"It's a 'win-win' situation," said city resident David Westerman.

Agreed, said Chris Galati, who uses a wheelchair. "To be able to get down to the beach in a wheelchair and view the beach and sunset and have a wheelchair-accessible restaurant will be a big plus for the city," he said.

Resident Robin Wall suggested the pavilion will allow the Sandbar to run a "special events business."

Dye did note that any weddings or other events held in the pavilion will require a special event permit from the city if use of the pavilion creates a "higher impact" than normal business. "If it's not a greater impact, no special event permit is needed."

The P&Z recommendation for approval of the site plan now heads to the city commission, which is expected to discuss the site plan at its April 14 meeting.