Residents of Rivo at Ringling and attorney representing developer of new project at 1991 Main St. call for the proceeding
With Mayor Hagen Brody dissenting, the Sarasota City Commission this week voted to conduct its own public hearing on the request of Raffurty’s sports bar, which is located in a Downtown Core city zoning district, to sell alcoholic beverages under the provisions of a specific type of state license.
The switch to operating under a “4COP quota” license in the establishment’s 1888 Main St. location would classify Raffurty’s as a nightclub, a city staff memo explained. Therefore, the business needs city approval of a Major Conditional Use application and a site plan that it has filed, or it cannot function as a nightclub at that site.
New District 1 City Commissioner Kyle Scott Battie originally voiced support simply for affirming the city Planning Board’s split vote to approve Raffurty’s application. However, Battie joined the majority of his colleagues after listening to their comments during the commission’s regular meeting on Dec. 7.
In making the resulting motion, Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch said, “I feel very strongly that this should go for a public hearing,” especially because the Planning Board vote of approval on Oct. 14 was 3-2.
She also referenced the fact that, during public comments on the issue that afternoon, Raffurty’s attorney, Rob Robinson of Sarasota, had said the owner of the business was not opposed to a City Commission hearing.
Robinson pointed out that he was not certain what new information the city commissioners would hear if they conducted their own hearing, but Ahearn-Koch took a different view.
For example, Ahearn-Koch said, the company pursuing redevelopment of the 8.37-acre property located at 1991 Main St., whose plans include 418 condominiums, has not had sufficient opportunity to express any concerns it has about Raffurty’s application.
(Stephen Rees of the Icard Merrill law firm in Sarasota, who represents the entity that owns the property located at 1991 Main St. — BPOZ 1191 Main LLC — was among those who asked the commissioners to conduct a hearing. An October city status report on the BPOZ 1991 Main project says staff is continuing to conduct its review of the proposal, which also calls for 50,700 square feet of retail space. The site has been home to the Hollywood 20 movie theater, shops, office space and a parking garage.)
“I think it’s important, as a city that’s growing, that we take everybody’s voice into account,” Ahearn-Koch emphasized.
Vice Mayor Erik “E” Arroyo — who seconded her motion — earlier noted that the residents of the Rivo on Ringling condominium complex were not provided formal notice of the Planning Board hearing, because their building stands just outside the 500-foot radius for such notifications. Yet, Arroyo pointed out, Rivo at Ringling, located at 1771 Ringling Blvd., is close to Raffurty’s.
Commissioner Liz Alpert quickly concurred with Ahearn-Koch and Arroyo. Normally, Alpert said, she would support the Planning Board’s decision in a situation like this one, as its members “really analyze things.” However, Alpert added, residents who live near Raffurty’s “feel like they weren’t heard” during that hearing.
“My concern is for the business in this moment to be kind of put on ice for this [City Commission] public hearing,” Mayor Brody said. Businesses are suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he pointed out, and Raffurty’s has another disadvantage in that it is located on the eastern end of Main Street. (In the past, some city leaders have indicated that the eastern area of Main Street does not draw as many patrons to businesses as the western end of the street.)
Moreover, Brody continued, he felt that residents’ concerns are related to the city’s noise ordinance, not the Major Conditional Use approval Raffurty’s is seeking.
Background and present concerns
The Raffurty’s item was on the commission’s Consent Agenda No. 2, which contains matters of a more routine nature. Yet, even before the commission began its Dec. 7 regular meeting, City Attorney Robert Fournier had responded to emails sent by Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck, who urged the holding of a City Commission public hearing on Raffurty’s plans.
At the outset of the board discussion, Fournier made it clear that the commissioners could hold their own public hearing. If that was their intention, he added, they should not take any testimony that afternoon “on the merits of the application [from Raffurty’s].”
In regard to that application: The GrayRobinson law firm explains that a 4COP quota license allows “for package sales in addition to [alcoholic beverage] sales by the drink. Both on-premise and off-premise sales are allowed under this type of license.”
Further, the law firm points out, “A 4COP quota license has to be purchased from someone who already owns one. It is an asset, just like a car or a house … These licenses are expensive, with prices varying by county.”
It is called a “quota license,” GrayRobinson adds, because only a certain number of such licenses are available in each county. The State of Florida allows only one license per 7,500 people in a county.
Backup agenda material for the City Commission item noted that Raffurty’s has a 4COP SRX license, which allows liquor sales in a restaurant in which at least 51% of the revenue derives from non-alcoholic beverage sales. Raffurty’s has had difficulty meeting that requirement, the document noted, which is why it wants to switch to the 4COP quota license. Under city Zoning Code regulations, if the business functions with a 4COP quota license, the document added, that would make Raffurty’s a nightclub, even though Raffurty’s would continue to function as a restaurant.
When Raffurty’s attorney, Robinson, addressed the commissioners, he pointed out that World of Beer, which previously occupied the premises, applied for exactly the same type of Major Conditional Use permit in 2017, and the Planning Board approved it. In that case, he continued, the City Commission affirmed the Planning Board decision without conducting its own hearing.
Raffurty’s has 175 seats under air conditioning, “plus outdoor patio space. The property has housed a variety of restaurants,” the staff memo said. Raffurty’s opened in March 2019, the memo pointed out. Its hours are from 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
On Dec. 7, attorney Lobeck was the first person to address the Sarasota City Commission about the Raffurty’s application. He noted that he lives in Rivo at Ringling, which is “directly visible from Raffurty’s second floor patio.” Lobeck added, “I’m directly affected by this, the issue being noise.”
“I can very loudly hear raucous noise in my unit” when bands are performing on that patio, he pointed out.
One key reason he urged the City Commission to conduct its own public hearing, he continued, is what he called a mistake in the Major Conditional Use approval from the Planning Board. “Staff had recommended that live or amplified music not be allowed for the second floor patio,” he explained, except in conjunction with an approved temporary use permit or special event permit. What the Planning Board approved, he noted, said that no speakers would be allowed on the second floor patio, except in conjunction with a temporary use or special event permit.
The Planning Board vote did not address a stage on that second floor patio, Lobeck said. Therefore, the applicant could argue that amplified music from the stage would not violate the Major Conditional Use permit.
He had talked with Karl Raffurty, the owner of the nightclub, Lobeck pointed out, and Raffurty is willing to work out the issues. “We had a nice conversation.”
Another resident of Rivo at Ringling, Maurico Cueva-Eguiguren, who is a professional engineer, told the commissioners that he has taken sound measurements at his condominium when bands have been performing at Raffurty’s and has found those measurements to exceed the maximum levels mandated in the city’s noise ordinance.
After the public comments ended, Vice Mayor Arroyo pointed out, “I think we support our businesses downtown.” However, he said he understood that only about 10 residents appeared at the Planning Board hearing.
“We’ve received dozens and dozens of emails and calls [about the Raffurty’s situation],” he added. “I believe … we should hold our own public meeting.”