BELLEAIR BLUFFS – Dog-friendly dining is close to becoming a reality in Belleair Bluffs. The City Commission unanimously approved an ordinance at their Aug. 19 meeting that will allow dogs to accompany their owners in outdoor areas of permitted restaurants.
The law was passed on first reading, and will not take effect until the measure is passed on a second, and final, reading scheduled for the Sept. 9 meeting.
However, commission comments indicated that vote will be a mere formality and Belleair Bluffs will soon join a growing number of communities with dog-friendly restaurants.
In fact, the practice has become common in Belleair Bluffs, though not officially allowed. “It’s against the law, but the restaurants are doing it,” City Clerk Debra Sullivan told the commission last month.
The commission had put off a vote on the ordinance until the restaurants could be heard from on the subject. A letter sent by the city to all owners informing them of the proposed dog dining law generated few, but all positive comments, Sullivan said.
Commissioner Suzy Sofer, who owns Cody’s restaurant, said she had heard from four or five owners who liked the idea “and were on board to get involved.”
“We wanted to make sure the restaurants were fully aware of this and we got some positive feedback,” said Sofer.
Concerns were alleviated with the letter, she said.
“They feel comfortable with what will go forward, and we just need to work with them on the rules for compliance.”
Mayor Chris Arbutine said, “This sounds like a positive thing.”
The rules associated with dog dining include a permit fee, posting of signs in allowed areas, supplying hand sanitizers at tables, keeping dogs leashed and under control, and cleaning up any dog wastes immediately.
Resident Dave Fynan questioned how the law would be enforced.
“What about restaurants that do not pay the permit fee, but don’t turn away customers who show up with their dogs,” he asked.
The dog dining ordinance will be enforced just like any other city ordinance, said City Attorney Thomas Trask. Noncompliance will be treated as a code violation, meaning offenders will be cited, either by the city’s public works employees or police. Repeat violator cases will be handled by the city’s Special Magistrate, said Trask.
Sullivan said following the meeting she did not expect problems with compliance.
“I just heard today from another restaurant owner who said he was all for [the dog dining law]. We’ve had positive feedback. They think it’s a good idea,” Sullivan said.