Gilligan’s Bar & Grill petition to continue live music after 10 p.m. in Siesta Village wins Planning Commission endorsement

Attorney for owner stresses that volume still must comply with county sound ordinance

Although only five of the nine members of the Sarasota County Planning Commission were present for the advisory board’s regular meeting on Dec. 1, the five were unanimous in recommending that the County Commission approve a Special Exception petition submitted by the owner of Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill in Siesta Key Village.

As of Dec. 7, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester told The Sarasota News Leader, the County Commission hearing on the petition had not been scheduled.

The business encompasses the restaurant and bar located at 5253 Ocean Blvd. and the adjacent coffee shop at 5251 Ocean Blvd. The Special Exception would apply to the latter, as well, a county staff report indicates.

Officially, the motion that Planning Commissioner Martha Pike made at the conclusion of the public hearing would allow Gilligan’s to offer live music after 10 p.m., until the business closes. Testimony during the hearing indicated that the latter time is generally around 2 a.m. or 2:30 a.m. However, the business’ Facebook page says it closes at midnight.

Commissioner Kevin Cooper, who served as the executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce about a decade ago, seconded the motion.

When Cooper asked Lakewood Ranch attorney Casey Colburn, Gilligan’s representative during the hearing, what would change if the Special Exception were granted, Colburn replied that the business had been charged with no noise or county Code Enforcement violations during the past 20 years. (Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show that Nocturnal Properties LLC, which submitted the Special Exception application, bought the property in September 2007.)

Moreover, given the expense for the Special Exception process, Colburn said, Scott Smith, who is the principal of Nocturnal Properties, “is not going to be flippant about losing the investment in this.”

Then Smith himself stepped to the microphone. Allowing the playing of live music until closing, Smith told Cooper, would be no different than making a change on Gilligan’s menu.

“I do live bands seven nights a week,” Smith continued. Yet, at 10 p.m., he said, he has to switch to prerecorded music. “I don’t try and sneak past that [cutoff for the live music],” he added.

The only change he would make if he wins the Special Exception, he said, is allowing the bands play longer, which — he noted — is much more enjoyable for his customers.

Colburn emphasized at the outset of his presentation, “We plan to keep doing what we’ve been doing for 20 years on the property … just with live human beings plucking strings, singing notes,” instead of having to switch to recorded music after 10 p.m.

“This is not an application to play louder, be louder, make more noise,” Colburn told the Planning Commission. “What we’re trying to do,” he continued, “is make customers happy, and they get really unhappy around 10 o’clock when we have to pull the plug on … the performers. And the performers don’t like it, either.”

The county staff report on the petition pointed out that ultimate approval of the Special Exception — if that is the County Commission’s decision — “will not allow any music to be played louder than the existing County sound ordinance already dictates.”

The sound ordinance says that a commercial property cannot exceed a level of 75 decibels.

However, county Planning Division staff did not offer support for the proposed Binding Development Concept Plan that accompanied the application, the report noted. That was because Nocturnal Properties “has not provided information identifying the area(s) for the live entertainment …” Instead, the company had “[expressed] a desire to utilize the entire property for live entertainment possibilities.” That meant that the live music could be played outdoors as well as indoors, the report continued.

Further, the application did not “place any limitation on hours in which live entertainment may occur.”

Staff proposed three stipulations, the report said, one of which called for no entertainment in the parking lot behind Gilligan’s, which is close to dwellings on Calle Menorca.

Colburn said that owner Smith agreed with staff about eliminating the parking lot from consideration.

That concession was the reason Planning Commissioner Pike told her colleagues she was willing to make the motion to approve the Special Exception.

The plans for extending the period of live music also do not extend to the gift shop on the site, Colburn said, as the shop also is closer to the nearby residences.

The TUP option

During his remarks, county Planner Keaton Osborn explained that if Gilligan’s wished to offer live music in the parking lot, it would have to obtain a Temporary Use Permit (TUP).

In response to a question from Planning Commissioner Teresa Mast, county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson said that the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) zoning regulations allow TUPs to be issued for special events at restaurants and bars on property zoned Commercial General and Commercial Intensive, but only for certain holidays. Those are New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, July Fourth, Labor Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving. The activities authorized can begin no earlier than 11 a.m., the SKOD says. Most of the TUPs are valid only to 10 p.m. However, on New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day, an event can last until 12:30 a.m., the code notes. Likewise, the activity can last until 12:30 a.m. on July 5.

Those regulations are contained in Section 124-74 of the county’s Unified Development Code, which contains all of the land-use and zoning regulations.

Details of the staff report and public comments

The county staff report notes that Gilligan’s three properties comprise about 5,600 square feet. The site is zoned Commercial General in the Siesta Key Overlay District, the report adds.

Businesses within the same area of the Village “primarily front Ocean Boulevard,” which they use for their main entrance, the report notes. They “utilize Calle Menorca as a secondary/service entrance for their businesses.”

Further, the report explains, “Siesta Key Village is known for its nighttime entertainment with [restaurants] and bars for local residents and tourists.” In an effort to regulate the noise and nightlife within the area, the report continues, the county allows live entertainment only until 10 p.m. If the owner of a business wishes to provide music later than that, the report says, the music must be recorded.

However, the report points out, if a business owner wants to offer live entertainment later than 10 p.m., the owner must apply for a Special Exception. Such petitions, the report notes, are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

If the County Commission approves a Special Exception petition, the report adds, the owner must engage in mitigation efforts “to promote compatibility” with adjacent properties. Among the latter, the report explains, are the creation of “a Binding Development Concept Plan to showcase where entertainment can be located, stipulations for hours [of] operation or increasing buffer and screening of the establishment from adjacent properties.”

Four of the five speakers during the public hearing urged the planning commissioners not to endorse the proposal for Gilligan’s. One of them was Michael Holderness, part owner of the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites, which is only about 60 feet from the areas where the live entertainment would be allowed, according to testimony.

(The dwellings on Calle Menorca also are approximately 60 feet from Gilligan’s, the staff report said, “with very minimal vegetation between the land uses.”)

Holderness pointed out, “I know the applicant; I like the applicant.”

Nonetheless, Holderness told the planning commissioners, he has ownership in three businesses on the barrier island that provide “transient accommodations” — the county’s term for hotel and motel rooms.

Having spent “many, many years” in the hospitality business, Holderness continued, he knows that, “more than ever, families and couples choose to rent [on the Key] for the family atmosphere and, more important, the private enjoyment [of their accommodations].”

He was concerned, he said, that live music at Gilligan’s later than 10 p.m. “will travel to my guest rooms” and the hotel’s amenities, including the pool area.

Holderness emphasized further that it was not just the music that worries him. He referenced the accompanying crowd noise, including the fact, he said, that people routinely scream, “One more song!” Holderness added that Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies and county Code Enforcement staff readily could attest to that.

Moreover, he told the commissioners, if they recommended approval of the Special Exception, owners of other bars and restaurants on Siesta would make “the same egregious request” that Nocturnal Properties did.

County Planner Osborne told the planning commissioners that five Siesta Key properties do have Special Exceptions to play live music after 10 p.m. Among those are the Siesta Key Oyster Bar and the Daiquiri Deck — which are across the street from Gilligan’s — and The Hub Baja Grill, which is located at the intersection of Avenida Messina and Ocean Boulevard.

The latter Special Exception was approved in 1992, Osborn said; the others, in 2001.

Other opponents

Among the other opponents of the proposal, the Siesta Key Association (SKA) sent a letter to the Planning Commission, dated Nov. 26. In it, President Catherine Luckner pointed out that, during the past seven or eight years, business owners and residents of Siesta Key Village and its environs have “worked together to enhance and maintain our recreation/tourism environment as well as the residential areas.”

She cited not only concerns about the proximity of Gilligan’s to Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites, but also to the residential area behind the business, including the “canal-front high-end [residential single-family home] neighborhood” that is within 60 to 100 feet of the restaurant and bar.

Luckner told attendees of the nonprofit’s regular meeting this month, which also took place on Dec. 1 — overlapping with the Planning Commission hearing — that sound is magnified when it travels over water.

In her letter to the Planning Commission, Luckner asked the board members to consider the potential for adverse impacts on the surrounding properties, as the live music would be performed “until 2am every night/day.”

A second speaker during the hearing, Mary Smarelli, who lives on Ocean Boulevard, told the planning commissioners she enjoys “the diversity of the Village.” However, she continued, she does not like “a lot of noise late in the evening. … I think that we have to think about trying to coexist peacefully.”

The only supporter among the speakers was Karen Kohnke, who lives on Avenida Messina.

The music played at Gilligan’s, she said, is “never a problem. … I don’t hear it at my house.”

The crowds she has seen at the business, Kohnke continued, are older “and much more laidback.” She described the atmosphere there as “so different” from what she has seen at the Beach Club and the Daiquiri Deck.

Kohnke added that she felt certain owner Smith would do nothing to jeopardize the ability to have live music until closing if the County Commission granted the Special Exception.