Highlights of November 6, 2023 Sarasota City Commission Meeting
CORNERING THE ROUNDABOUTS
NO HOLIDAY CHEER FOR THE CIRCLE?
Speaking of going around in circles, the city manager made a list and checked it twice after last year’s Winter Spectacular created a spectacle fit for a Festivus. Will city officials embrace the spirit of the season and join the merchants and residents at the December 1 tree lighting on St. Armand’s?
BAR BRAWL HINGES ON FOOD FIGHT
Will sidewalk speakeasies and rooftop nightclubs become a thing of the past - or will spaghetti code spell destination doom for residential quality of life in Sarasota?
City staff explained the problems created by conflicting definitions and standards in the city code and zoning code regarding food and alcoholic beverage establishments.
A downtown resident cited research showing that Sarasota is the DUI death capital of Florida, and shared SPD statistics showing a substantial number of 911 calls related to batteries, disturbances and public drunkenness along the principal stretch of Main Street with bars and “restaurants” that turn into clubs at night.
CityPAC Founder Shirl Gauthier explained “livability is essential for downtown’s long-term viability,” and that the concentration of bars and nightclubs is leading to the exit of retailers and galleries. Noise and odor are among the bad neighbor problems created by outdoor bars. For example, Bevardi's Salute has lost patrons who don’t want to dine “al fresco” by a sidewalk cigar bar.
After discussion, there was consensus that ambiguities in the code need to be clarified to avoid incompatible uses. But exactly how to define restaurants, bars, and nightclubs – as well as what to allow where, and by what approval process, remains cloudy pending a workshop with staff on December 5 to discuss bar, restaurant, and nightclub policies.
One thing they won’t have to worry about is figuring out whether vaporware is a food group. “It is what it is, and it ain’t what it ain’t,” said Mayor Battie of the Miss Susie’s Newtown Kitchen settlement.
COMMUNITY COSTS OF HOTEL HOUSES
The Commission voted 4:1 to raise the fees for registration to cover the cost of inspection and enforcement of the 7-day minimum vacation rental citywide. Commissioner Arroyo continued to argue against charging commercial businesses operating in residential zones and eroding affordable housing stock a nominal $500 a year fee to defray the cost of ensuring these businesses comply with rental regulations.
Commissioner Arroyo also re-opened discussion of the Oct. 2 decision to fight the Harris claims threatened by a commercial hotel house operator who wants to up occupancy limits despite disruptive house parties and a recent shooting. After Commissioner Ahearn-Koch pointed out that these businesses are operating in residential zones, and that the clock has expired to file suit, the city stuck with its prior decision not to settle the threatened claims.