City Commission splits 3-2 against upholding Planning Board decision for the new downtown business
Sarasota Mayor Willie Shaw joined Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie and Commissioner Susan Chapman on June 6 in calling for a public hearing on the request by Cask and Ale for a conditional use permit to allow it to sell alcoholic beverages in its new restaurant planned at 1548 Main St. in downtown Sarasota.
City Auditor and Clerk Pam Nadalini told The Sarasota News Leader on June 7 that, as of that time, she expected the public hearing to be on the July 5 City Commission agenda. That meeting will be on a Tuesday because of the July Fourth holiday, she pointed out.
The city Planning Board had recommended approval of the conditional use permit after representatives of Cask and Ale offered several proffers — including stipulations that it would serve food during all hours alcohol was available and that the conditional use would be tied only to the business, not to the property.
However, in making the motion to call for the public hearing, Chapman told her colleagues, “I have a great concern that we are amending our [City] Code without amending our code, by proffers.” She also voiced concern that the City Commission needs to maintain a diversity of businesses in downtown Sarasota.
Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Liz Alpert — who voted in the minority — responded that they were satisfied by the actions of the actions of the Planning Board. “These proffers are over and above” the requirements for obtaining the conditional use permit, Atwell pointed out.
“Does there have to be public hearings ad infinitum?” Alpert asked. “At some point, we need to accept the recommendations of committees that we have doing these things, or let’s just eliminate the committees and we’ll do all the public hearings.”
In seconding Chapman’s motion, Freeland Eddie referenced the number of residents and downtown condominium associations opposed to the permit application, in spite of the young professionals in favor of it. She added that she also had concerns about noise and density.
“In our growth pattern,” Shaw said, “we’re going to have to address how we are going to entertain the populace, especially given the fact that a new condominium complex, The Mark Sarasota, is planned for downtown, as well as three new hotels under construction. The Mark will be built at 1400 State St.
“I don’t disagree that we need to have a discussion” about that issue, Alpert told Shaw, “but that’s another issue than this specific issue.”
“I hear that,” Shaw replied, “but if we don’t start these conversations … we are just setting ourselves up for more work [and setting the stage for more problems for future commissions].”
An organization of dining establishments in Sarasota County — Restaurants in Sarasota — posted a note on its Facebook page on June 7, protesting the City Commission vote. The comment said, “This will prevent Cask & Ale from opening as planned for 4th of July weekend and the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix Block Party Friday,” which is set for July 1.”
The post added, “The planning board previously heard [the] complaints and dismissed them as the usual whining, that comes from people who live downtown and complain there are actually people coming downtown to enjoy themselves.”
The staff report provided to the commission in advance of its regular meeting on June 6 explained that the Cask and Ale property encompasses 3,132 square feet of interior ground floor space that the dining establishment is leasing, plus an adjacent, partially enclosed patio area with 20 seats that would be open to the sidewalk. The interior would have a bar with about 21 seats, along with 58 more seats at tables and in a private tasting room.
The 4-COP license the Cask and Ale proposes to carry, the report continues, allows the sale of beer, wine and liquor without requirements for food sales or a specific number of seats.
An additional proffer the Cask and Ale provided before winning unanimous Planning Board approval on May 11 set a closing time of 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday — except the day before a holiday — and 11:59 p.m. for Fridays and Saturdays — except when those days precede a holiday — for the garage-type door at the business, as well as for the patio. Another proffer said no live or amplified music would be performed “or cast directly from the outdoor patio area,” and that the overhead doors would be closed earlier than the above times if necessary to comply with the sound regulations in the City Code.
The Restaurants in Sarasota Facebook post explained that the proffers regarding the hours for the closing of the garage-style door and limits on music are the same as those for the nearby Mattison’s City Grille. The post pointed out that Mattison’s and a number of other active bars and restaurants lie between the Cask and Ale location and downtown condominiums, “making [nearby residents’] worrisome complaints about noise a moot point.”
Restaurants in Sarasota urged its supporters to voice their support for Cask and Ale by writing or calling Shaw, Freeland Eddie and Chapman.
Jeffery Catherell, managing member of Cask and Ale Sarasota LLC, filed the application for the conditional use permit on April 6. He did not return a News Leader request for comment on the City Commission action.
In its May 11 executive summary of the matter for the Planning Board, city staff wrote that a similar conditional use, site plan and adjustment were denied for the Paddy Wagon at 1576 Main St. because that business would offer no food sales and it “had an ownership with a documented history of police complaints” at another location — Smokin’ Joes — that exceeded police calls at similar establishments serving food.
The executive summary also noted that Cask and Ale has “successfully operated a … location within a similar downtown environment in St. Petersburg.”
One Zoning Code adjustment Cask and Ale seeks would allow it to operate within 85 feet of an alcoholic beverage store, while the City Code calls for a 500-foot separation from such a business, as well as from the nearest school; church/synagogue sanctuary; or another bar, tavern or nightclub.
After Chapman asked on June 6 that the City Commission vote on whether to uphold the Planning Board’s approval of the Cask and Ale conditional use permit, the city’s senior planner, Courtney Mendez, explained that “there was pretty substantial testimony” from members of the public at the Planning Board meeting, with views in favor and in opposition to the permit request.
When Atwell asked for clarification that City Manager Tom Barwin can revoke any conditional use permit that has been granted to an establishment, Mendez said that was correct.
In response to a question from Chapman about how many of those permits the city manager has revoked, Mendez said, “None that I’m aware of.”
Nonetheless, Mendez explained, failure of a business to comply with any of the stipulations linked with the conditional use, code enforcement issues, and “an inordinate amount of law enforcement activity” could result in such revocations.
When Chapman asked whether the conditional use permit for the Ivory Lounge on Main Street was revoked after residents began lodging noise complaints about that business — and law enforcement matters arose there — Mendez told Chapman, “No.”
Freeland Eddie also pointed out her concern about “dead zones” downtown, which she said are created by an abundance of establishments that serve alcohol being closed in the daytime, when retail shops are open.
Mendez noted that the same “dead zone” logic could be applied at night, when bars and dining establishments are open, but retail businesses have closed at 5 or 6 p.m.
When Chapman said she understood that Cask and Ale would be serving small plates only, Mendez explained that that is the practice at the business’ St. Petersburg location. In Sarasota, however, it will have a larger kitchen, she added, so it could serve full dinners.
Atwell told her colleagues she believes Cask and Ale “will add great value to Main Street,” noting that she has been to the St. Petersburg location. “I hate to see this delayed too much longer,” she added of the public hearing. “It is a huge mistake, I believe, to treat Cask and Ale as the scapegoat” amid concerns about expanding entertainment options on downtown Sarasota, Atwell said.
“This discussion started when I was on the Planning Board,” Chapman replied. “We realized we were having trouble, adding one bar after another.” Furthermore, she said, “We are not scapegoating Cask and Ale. They knew the rules when they came into town and made the proposal, and they want to be an exception to the rules.”