ANNA MARIA – City Commission Chair Brian Seymour tendered his immediate resignation Friday morning.
His resignation came one day after his fellow commissioners voted 4-0 in favor of not pursuing a potential city ordinance amendment that might have allowed Seymour to open a takeout package liquor store next to his Anna Maria General Store on Pine Avenue. Seymour planned to lease the adjacent retail space vacated by Island Charms, but those plans are now scrapped.
The commission reached this unanimous decision during a special meeting on Thursday, Aug. 29. Seymour did not attend the meeting in order to avoid a potential conflict of interest between his business activities and his commission duties.
“It is with regret that I tender my resignation as city commission chairman/vice mayor effective immediately,” Seymour wrote in an email sent to Mayor Dan Murphy Friday morning.
“It is time for me to return and focus on my private life and private business ventures,” Seymour’s letter said.
In closing, he wished the mayor and the commission well.
The remaining commissioners must now appoint someone to serve the rest of Seymour’s two-year term that expires in November 2020.
During Thursday’s meeting, City Attorney Becky Vose said she received an email on Monday, Aug. 26, that included a written opinion from City Planner Robin Meyer regarding Seymour’s proposed business operations.
Adopted in the late 1980s, the city’s liquor ordinance prohibits liquor sales within 2,500 feet of Roser Memorial Community Church.
Meyer’s Aug. 26 email to Seymour said sales of alcohol for consumption off premises is a normal retail sale and is not covered by the city ordinance.
“This is further supported by Florida Statutes Chapter 563.02, which clearly states that licensing is different for establishments selling alcohol for consumption off premises … it goes even further by stating such uses shall not be subject to zoning by municipal or county authorities. It is my interpretation of this section that the city must treat any business selling alcohol for consumption off premises as a normal retail use, and we are banned by state law from placing any other restrictions on them,” Meyer wrote.
“I knew that the opinion written by the city planner was incorrect,” Vose told the commission.
Vose said she immediately called Seymour and reached out to the mayor. As a precautionary measure she drafted for commission consideration a potential city ordinance that would have allowed a package liquor store to operate on Pine Avenue.
Vose said time was of the essence because Seymour had contractual obligations to meet regarding the liquor license and additional leased space.
Commissioner Dale Woodland said when the ordinance was adopted the intent was not to allow any additional liquor establishments within 2,500 feet of the church.
“I don’t recall anybody opposing this ordinance when it was passed,” he said.
It was noted that Bortell’s Lounge, which is currently closed, was grandfathered in because it predated the ordinance. It was also noted the Waterfront restaurant later successfully petitioned the city to serve liquor on premises. Both establishments are within 2,500 feet of the church.
Commissioner Doug Copeland expressed concerns about Seymour’s businesses and liquor license being sold someday and potentially being used for on-site liquor consumption.
Vose said the city’s zoning laws could limit Seymour to takeout sales only and those restrictions would also to apply to any future owner.
The commission, minus Seymour, then voted not to move forward on an amended ordinance.
Immediately after Thursday’s meeting, The Sun visited Seymour at the location he proposed to use for his liquor store.
“Those liquor licenses are based on supply and demand and do not come available that often. I had a choice: sign for it or lose it. And the new space is almost ready,” Seymour said.
Seymour said he was now contractually obligated to pay a $35,000 deposit toward the full $350,000 due in September. He also recently signed a long-term lease with the property owner, Lizzie Vann.
“The letter I received from City Planner Robin Meyer said I was not subject to the city’s 2,500-foot rule. That’s for restaurants and bars,” Seymour said, noting he received similar opinions from previous planners.
“When this ordinance was written in 1987 it created a monopoly. According to the city’s interpretation, it blocks anyone else from opening a package store. The way I interpret it is you can’t have a bar or restaurant that serves liquor in our business district because everything’s within 2,500 feet of the church,” Seymour said.
“I already sell beer and wine to go in the General Store,” Seymour said, noting that those who wish to purchase liquor for offsite consumption must drive to Holmes Beach since Bortell’s closed.
When contacted again on Friday, Seymour said, “Thankfully, I was able to get out of the liquor license contract, and I’m working on getting out of my verbal agreement on the lease.”
Regarding possible legal action against the city, Seymour said, “That’s probably the last thing I’d want to do, but I’m still in discussion with my attorney as to what my exposure has been and the city’s liability in that. There’s a lot of expenses that have been paid to this point, and we haven’t discussed the future profit damages,” Seymour said.