CLEARWATER – Frenchy’s serves beer at its sidewalk café on Clearwater Beach. So does Crabby Bill’s. But Britt’s Island Grill, just a short walk north of Frenchy’s and Crabby Bill’s, can’t serve alcohol on its dining patio that overlooks Beach Walk, the sand and the surf.
It’s all a matter of a zoning technicality, and it’s hitting Britt’s bottom line hard. So hard, in fact, that the eatery has laid off half its staff, is circulating a “Free the patio petition”, and claims on its Facebook page that “Britt’s patio is being held hostage.”
The problem is that Frenchy’s and Crabby Bill’s are solidly within the “Tourist” zoning district, where outdoor alcohol sales are permitted, but Britt’s is right on the border of the “Open Space/Recreation District’” where such sales are prohibited.
The Clearwater City Council will vote this week on a proposed ordinance that will delineate specific areas within the Open Space/Recreation District where outdoor cafes can serve alcohol, and provide specifications regarding the size and locations of such cafes.
Britt’s shares a six-story building with a public parking garage and a large Surf Style retail store, and its relationship with the city has been stormy at times. Mayor George Cretekos said at the June 18 city council work session that he had personally stopped at Britt’s to complain about its use of illegal “sandwich board” signs in the public right-of-way, and signs larger than the code allows. But he added that the prohibited signs have been removed and there haven’t been any further violations since his visit.
“What I’m afraid of is that after we do this (favor of allowing Britt’s to serve beer on its patio), they’re going to find some other way to test us.” Mayor Cretekos said.
He suggested a “sunset clause” under which each restaurant wanting to serve alcohol on its patio in the Open Space Recreation District would be issued a permit that would expire every six months. Restaurants that followed the rules would receive rubber-stamp renewal of their permits, but those that broke the rules would be denied renewals.
City Attorney Pam Akin feared that granting permits in six-month increments might stifle investment in the area because restaurant owners would be reluctant to spend money on a patio that might lose its liquor privileges within six months. Instead, she suggested granting long-term permits and having Michael Delk, in his capacity as the city’s Development Coordinator, revoke the permit of any establishment that breaks the rules. But Mayor Cretekos was adamant.
“It’s easy for us to pass something and say it’s easy to revoke,” he said. “But it’s hard to revoke it.”
Mayor Cretekos and Vice Mayor Paul Gibson both agreed that the owners of the Britt’s complex are holding a giant club over the heads of city officials.
For decades, city officials had wanted a public parking garage on Clearwater Beach but couldn’t find a suitable location at a price the city could afford. Then the owners of the Britt’s complex came along and offered to build a garage that would be available to the public and wouldn’t cost the taxpayers a cent. But if the enterprise goes belly-up, the city must shell out millions of dollars to buy the garage.
They both fear that cracking down too hard on Britt’s might cause it to fail and the city would have to buy the garage, a scenario they want to avoid. The matter was scheduled for a vote at the June 20 City Council meeting.