LARGO – City commissioners voiced unanimous support July 16 for a new ordinance that would allow dogs to accompany their owners within the outdoor seating area of Largo restaurants.
The provision has been a new trend recently adopted by other municipalities in Pinellas. Clearwater, Dunedin, Safety Harbor and St. Petersburg allow restaurants to welcome dogs. Largo commissioners began considering the idea after Daniel Lehan, owner of the Village on Walsingham Road, asked about the potential new ordinance.
“I have been getting several questions about ‘Doggy Dining’ on our brand new outdoor dining,” he wrote in an email dated Feb. 27. “I am not sure how you all feel about this but … (p)lease let me know your thoughts.”
The commission asked staff to draft an ordinance March 5 and poll how the business community felt about it. The Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce voiced support, as did other owners of Largo restaurants with outdoor dining, whom staff polled.
“I think what this does is just give the restaurant owners more options,” Commissioner Woody Brown commented. “And I’m in support of any legislation that makes it easy for restaurants to do things unique and different.”
Commissioner Michael Smith added that the ordinance left customers with a choice as well. Restaurant owners could always switch back to not allowing dogs if they noticed a drop in sales, he said.
The proposed ordinance provides for businesses to apply for a building permit that would add the “doggy dining” allowance to their business tax receipt. Staff would inspect the designated outdoor dining area to ensure it has outside public access for the customers and their pet dogs.
The one-time fee of $41 is designed to cover the city’s costs to do the additional inspection and initial paperwork and would not expire unless there’s a problem, program planner Karisa RojasNorton explained.
The city’s planning advisory board suggested that the ordinance stipulate three additional conditions: the dogs must be tethered by the owner to either the owner’s table or chair, the leash must not be longer than 4 feet long and the restaurants’ servers are prohibited from touching the dog.
However, staff confirmed with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation that the city could not add regulations beyond that mandated by state legislation, without placing the burden of enforcing the regulations on the city. As it stands, complaints are received and investigated by state department’s Hotels and Restaurants Division.
Staff’s proposed ordinance, which passed first reading unanimously, does not include the additional provisions. The final hearing on the matter is scheduled for the Aug. 6 commission meeting at 6 p.m.