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Date of Issue: July 05, 2006

Sandbar site plan hearing turns into courtroom battle

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Attorney Dan Lobeck, left, along with attorney David Meyer and professional planner Jan Norsoph, right, display an aerial photograph of the Sandbar Restaurant at the June 29 public hearing for the Sandbar's final site plan, pointing out what they believe are inconsistencies for their opposing clients between the plan and Anna Maria's comprehensive plan and city codes. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

An expected 45-minute hearing on the final site plan for the Sandbar Restaurant at the June 29 Anna Maria City Commission meeting turned into more than three hours of courtroom drama as lawyers for opponents of the plan did their best to turn the hearing into a trial.

In the end, however, commissioners voted unanimously to approve the site plan that Sandbar owner Ed Chiles has spent more than two years developing. The commission did add six stipulations to the plan, but rejected the contention by attorney Dan Lobeck, representing adjacent property owners William and Barbara Nally, that the plan did not meet the city's comprehensive plan requirements or codes.

Lobeck, known as the attorney who fought against the Arvida-St. Joe condominium project on Perico Island on behalf of the Island cities and ManaSota-88 for nearly five years, apologized if commissioners thought this was going to be a quick hearing.

This is a "quasi-judicial" proceeding and his clients are entitled to "due process," he said.

Lobeck contended the site plan had "numerous glaring errors," and the commission had "no choice legally" except to deny the plan because it was not in compliance with city codes.

The failure of the plan to comply with city codes would give anyone an opportunity to "appeal" in the court, said Lobeck, possibly hinting that a lawsuit could follow.

Lobeck presented testimony from professional planner Jan Norsoph, who produced a written report documenting numerous violations of the city code with the Sandbar site plan and submitted 14 conditions that the commission should add before approving the plan.

But city planner Alan Garrett said, in his professional opinion, Chiles' plan does conform to the applicable city codes, particularly since the Sandbar - and several adjacent homes - are in a commercial zone.

Lobeck tried his best to get Garrett to admit that this was a "residential area," regardless of the zoning, but Garrett refused to bite.

Those are residences that have been built in a commercial zone, responded Garrett. The city codes regarding what is required in a residential zone do not apply.

Lobeck claimed Chiles needs to establish a 6-foot-high fence between his property and the residences, is violating the setback requirements with the placement of an outside cooler, and needs to have landscaping buffering. He was also concerned about Chiles' lease of two vacant lots to meet his parking requirements, noting those leases were "shortterm," and the owners could easily decide not to renew the lease, resulting in Chiles' not meeting the parking requirements for the restaurant.

"No one disputes that the Sandbar is an asset to the City of Anna Maria," contended Lobeck, but the city has to do its duty and not just "make life easy for a big, powerful property owner."

But city attorney Jim Dye and Garrett defended their opinion that the site plan meets all city codes.

Attorney Ricinda Perry, representing Chiles, chimed in that these were all the old arguments heard at the preliminary site plan hearing on June 29, 2005.

She noted that if the parking lot leases are not renewed, it would be Chiles' problem. At present, he meets the parking requirements.

Lobeck's attempt to turn the leased lots into an issue for the site plan was "completely irrelevant," she said.

Chiles added that after two years of working to get the site plan completed and approved by the city, he didn't think the commission had made life "easy," as Lobeck had indicated.

Commissioners eventually approved the site plan with several stipulations, including:

  • The pavilion will only be for food and beverage consumption and no on-site preparation will be permitted.
  • A maintenance agreement between the city and the Sandbar for right-of-way improvements done by the Sandbar must be approved.
  • Two of the Sandbar parking lots shall be designed so that cars do not have to back into Spring Avenue and Spring Lane.
  • The parking lots shall have the existing shell and hardpack replaced with a filter mix or city-approved filter mix.

Chiles also agreed to install pavers in specific areas, including a city beach access at the end of Pine Avenue, and establish parking buffers.

Lobeck gave no indication that his clients might pursue the commission's decision in court.


Other business

Commissioners barely found time to approve the first reading of the city's sign ordinance and scheduled the second hearing for the July 27 commission meeting.

The commission also referred the issue of the easement at the Olesen property at 502-504 S. Bay Blvd. back to Dye and the attorney for the Olesens to reach a settlement and that will be presented to the commission.