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Date of Issue: May 20, 2009

Commission returns to outdoor dining

Holmes Beach city commissioners chewed on concerns with the city’s relatively new outdoor dining ordinance May 12, but did not vote to take any action to change the measure.

City Commissioner Pat Morton requested a discussion on the ordinance, enacted last August to allow restaurants to further expand outdoor dining — allowed from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekends — provided applications to the city be accompanied by an authorization from the property owner, contain a site plan with “the proposed location of the outdoor dining area, showing dimensions, ingress/egress access, exits and the proposed number of outdoor seats and tables,” as well as a description of inside seats and tables and parking spaces.

The prior city policy allowing restaurants to place eight seats outdoors was adopted to soften the blow of a state smoking ban.

Morton said he’s concerned because management of Havana Cabana on Marina Drive applied to add three tables to its outdoor dining area, and Bill Saunders, the city building official who died earlier this year, had denied the request.

The ordinance created a stumbling block that was not the commission’s intent, Morton said.

But Mayor Rich Bohnenberger, Commission Chair Sandy Haas-Martens and city attorney Patricia Petruff said Havana Cabana’s issue could be resolved with another plan review rather than an amendment to the ordinance.

“If somebody had told me about it, we could have fixed it a long time ago,” Bohnenberger said.

Morton’s request to take another bite at the ordinance led to another discussion on how a restaurant operating as an authorized non-conforming use can expand its outdoor seating.

Skinny’s Place on Gulf Drive is in that situation — a commercial operation on residentially zoned property. Skinny’s quest to expand its outdoor dining spurred the commission to look into revising the ordinance last year.

Commissioner David Zaccagnino had asked the commission to change the ordinance by expanding the number of automatically allotted outdoor seats from eight to 16 or 20.

Instead, the commission adopted the ordinance allowing restaurants in a commercial district to expand if they paid a $100 fee and a sketched seating.

The ordinance requires a non-conforming restaurant such as Skinny’s to go before the board of adjustment because the business is seeking to expand a non-conformity, according to Petruff.

Morton, Zaccagnino and Commissioner John Monetti asked whether a request for more outdoor seating from a restaurant that is a non-conforming use could bypass the BOA and go before the commission.

“I don’t think you can do that,” Bohnenberger said.

“You probably could,” Petruff said, but added, “By policy and tradition your codes have had the set-up for a long time that the BOA does variances.”

“If the board wants to take that duty and responsibility away from the BOA … that’s probably something that can be done,” she continued. “We just draft the ordinance.”

But Monetti said the commission didn’t want to review all requests for variances considered by the BOA, just the outdoor dining applications.

“The board of adjustment is the proper way to go at this point,” Haas-Martens said, because the commission doesn’t want to cherry-pick which variances it gives special treatment.

Bohnenberger added that the simplest solution for a restaurant such as Skinny’s is to seek a zoning change.

But Skinny’s owner Estelle Freeman, seated in the audience for the discussion, said a zoning change would be costly.

And, she complained, so is the BOA process.

“We’re the only ones that have to do this,” Freeman said. “We have all this money we have to pay.”

The commission discussed the matter at length, but took no action.

The commission last week also held another discussion on its controversial decision two years ago to eliminate seven-day rentals in R-1 single-family zones.

The decision was reaffirmed by the commission earlier this year, but has continued to generate letters and calls from property owners and property managers.

Monique Gutierrez of the 100 block of 52nd Street asked the commission last week “not to remove a property right that my family has had for six generations in Holmes Beach.”

Gutierrez said the city has other ways to handle complaints about problem neighbors than banning short-term rentals in single-family homes on the Gulf front.

“Much more attention needs to be given to the matter,” she said.

Commissioners emphasized all the attention already given the matter and sympathized with Gutierrez. However, they did not agree to take up the issue again.

The commission’s next meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 26, at city hall.