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Date of Issue: August 20, 2008

Commission revises outdoor dining ordinance

Critics offered no rave reviews and some panned a new outdoor dining ordinance adopted by Holmes Beach commissioners Aug. 11.

The measure - worked on for months at the commission-attorney level - was drafted to expand opportunities for outdoor dining.

But critics, including Commissioner David Zaccagnino, said the measure failed to meet the needs of Skinny’s Place on Gulf Drive. The push to expand outdoor dining opportunities originated with the restaurant, which draws a lot of customers from the nearby public beach.

Zaccagnino, at the start of the meeting, asked commissioners, “Listen to our community and help our community in these trying economic times. There are things that we can do right here, right now, that will benefit everyone and not cost taxpayers a dime. I was elected to make a difference, not to be an impediment.”

Zaccagnino said when he first urged other commissioners to revisit the outdoor dining ordinance he simply wanted an amendment expanding the number of chairs allowed outdoors without directly tying them to available parking.

City policy has been to allow restaurants to place eight seats outdoors, a rule adopted to soften the blow of a state smoking ban. Additionally, restaurants could bring more seats outdoors eliminating the same number of seats inside.

The new ordinance allows 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.

Zaccagnino’s primary concern is the new ordinance requires legally nonconforming operations, such as Skinny’s, to first seek approval from the city’s board of adjustment. The restaurant is a grandfathered commercial operation on property zoned residential.

Representatives from the family-owned Skinny’s did not attend the Aug. 11 meeting due to a conflict with vacations. Instead, Estella Freeman, on behalf of her family, sent a letter.

“Even though Skinny’s was the only restaurant that raised the issue, worked with the city, and had over 2,000 patrons sign a petition wanting it, we are the one restaurant who will have to follow a different set of rules,” Freeman wrote. “This defeats the whole purpose since this ordinance is about adding some more moveable tables and chairs, not adding a permanent structure.”

During public comment, Carol Whitmore, former mayor and current county commissioner, said she came up with the number of seats allotted when smoking diners were forced outdoors.

And, she said, the number was not tied to parking or any other consideration so it could easily be increased.

“There was no scientific or legal reason why we did that number,” Whitmore said.

Don Schroder endorsed the expansion of outdoor dining, and asked the commission to take a “serious look” at how to increase opportunities for all restaurants.

When the discussion returned to the dais, Zaccagnino said of the ordinance, “It’s a burdensome process. We’re over legislating.… This is just something we can change. The eight seats for smokers, that is a number that Carol thought of off the top of her head. What we’re doing right now with this ordinance is just legislating this thing to death.”

Commission Chair Sandy Haas-Martens countered, “I really think this ordinance helps the majority out there that wants dining.… We’re not asking for a big site plan, just a sketch.… I think this is a good ordinance … and I’m sorry that one person isn’t happy.”

Commissioner Pat Morton, who has resisted expanding outdoor dining because of his concern that seating would be too close to traffic, said an ordinance should not be tailored for one entity.

Commissioner Pat Geyer, who owns Duffy’s Tavern, which previously operated at the Skinny’s site, said, “I can’t see where this new ordinance is going to make it hard for anybody really.”

City attorney Stephen Dye also defended the ordinance. “Hopefully this will be carried forward as a liberalization of the old-standing rule that did not allow outdoor dining,” he said. “Hopefully, this will promote it.”

After several go-’rounds on the ordinance, Haas-Martens invited a motion. Geyer and Morton were slow to offer a motion and a second to approve the ordinance.

The vote to approve was 3-1, with Zaccagnino voting no and Commissioner John Monetti absent.

In other business, commissioners:

  • Approved a resolution allowing Waste Management to begin trash collection at 6 a.m. if necessary during the 45-day closure of the Anna Maria Island Bridge.
  • Approved a first reading of an agreement between the city and TECO/Peoples Gas for the utility to operate in the city.
  • Approved a first reading of an ordinance amending the city’s comprehensive plan.

The commission’s next meeting was scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 19, after The Islander’s deadline. The regular meeting date was changed to avoid a conflict with the Aug. 26 primary election.