Sweet Sage files lawsuit against North Redington Beach

The town of North Redington Beach May 1 reached a settlement with John Messmore, the owner of Sweet Sage Café, regarding the last unresolved segment of Messmore’s ongoing lawsuits against the town. Messmore filed his first lawsuit against the town on Nov. 15, 2015, over signage, the next four over seating, and this last one just settled before it was scheduled to go to a jury trial in June.

NORTH REDINGTON BEACH – After John Messmore, the owner of Sweet Sage Café, began legal action in April against the town of North Redington Beach over seating regulations for restaurants, bars, and lounges, a magistrate involved in the case recommended that the town clarify its 2009 ordinance. At the Aug. 9 town hall meeting, that’s exactly what commissioners did.

An ordinance passed unanimously during new business detailing the methods for counting seats in bars, lounges, and restaurants. The seating ordinance prior to 2009 allowed a ratio of three seats for every one on-site parking space. The 2009 ordinance recognized that with the advent of services such as Uber in 2009, and later Lyft in 2012, as well as the increase of customers walking or taking public transportation, that the ratio be increased from 3:1 to 4:1.

The ordinance revolves around the parking to seating ratio. It allows for “one parking space for every four seats and one parking space for each employee on the busiest shift,” said Jay Daigneault, the town’s attorney.

The ordinance that passed at the August meeting maintains the mandates of the 2009 seating ordinance, making grandfathering-in irrelevant since the pre-2009 ordinance allowed for fewer seats. “We (NRB) have limited parking on the beach,” said Mayor Bill Queen.

Commissioner Gary Curtis asked if the seating ordinance had anything to do with the maximum capacity signs posted on the premises of most restaurants, bars, and lounges. Queen replied that it does not and explained that maximum capacity is a separate and distinct consideration under the exclusive purview of the fire department.

The new ordinance was reviewed in July by Scott Swearengen, long range planning manager of the Pinellas County Planning Department. In an email to NRB town officials, Swearengen wrote, “I did not see anything believed to be out of compliance with the town’s adopted comprehensive plan.” He also stated that “the comprehensive plan calls for adequate parking to meet demand” and that the proposed ordinance was “moving the town in that direction.”

Messmore was present at the meeting and requested an opportunity to speak during public input. After he began asking questions of the mayor regarding grandfathering in relation to his legal action against the town rather than providing input on the matter at hand, Daigneault reminded Messmore that this was a town hall meeting limited to the town’s business and not an opportunity for Messmore to address current litigation to get something “on record.”

The details regarding specifics of many different seat sizes and a definition of seating were incorporated into the new ordinance to capture the “mixed analyses” and to “add clarity about how the number of seats” were counted, said Daigneault.

“If this ordinance passes, Conch Republic, Frog Pond, and myself (Sweet Sage Café) will have to remove seats,” said Messmore before the vote was taken. The ordinance passed unanimously.

Beach concession licenses renewed

Commissioners renewed the beach concession licenses of Beach Services West and Windsurfin International. The businesses have had their beach concession licenses renewed for more than a dozen years.

The mayor asked Town Clerk Mari Campbell if there had been any complaints about these businesses. Campbell replied, “One small complaint, but it was resolved.”

Resolution passes to execute inter-local agreement regarding flood maps

A resolution passed unanimously authorizing the mayor to execute an interlocal agreement with Pinellas County for review of preliminary flood maps and to reimburse costs incurred by Pinellas County on behalf of North Redington Beach.

Preliminary flood maps that change some areas of the town to velocity zones would negatively impact the flood insurance rates for the town. Pinellas County is entering into a contract with HDR, Inc. to review the preliminary flood maps on behalf of the town and to potentially appeal the changes.

Town appoints special and alternate magistrates

A resolution passed unanimously appointing Herb Langford as special magistrate and Audrey Schechter as alternate special magistrate to review all requests for variances, special exceptions, and administrative reviews for the town.

Daigneault said, “Anything that is quasi-judicial will go to the magistrate.” All the non-judicial duties will continue to be handled by the Planning & Zoning Board.