UPDATED Aug. 30, 2021 at 12:05 p.m. – HOLMES BEACH – A local couple whose wedding plans were ruined by the Bali Hai Beach Resort was rescued by Island restaurateur Sean Murphy, who has offered them a wedding venue at one of his properties.
City Commissioner Terry Schaefer contacted Murphy after Bradenton couple David Naeher and Natalie Schofield appeared before commissioners on Aug. 24 to plead their case, hoping the city would approve their application for a special event permit to have their wedding on the beach in front of the Bali Hai.
Unknown to the couple, the resort – which advertises itself as a wedding venue – is not allowed to host weddings due to city permit violations.
Commissioners did approve the ceremony on the sand to take place pending a parking plan review by Police Chief Bill Tokajer, but gave the couple the bad news that their Oct. 16 reception cannot take place at the resort.
Ordinarily, Mayor Judy Titsworth said she would be able to approve or deny a special event permit, however, with the ongoing legal issues with the host resort, she felt it needed to come before commissioners.
City leaders’ issues with the Bali Hai and its ownership extend back for more than a year to when work was done on the property without permits and a bar and spa area were opened on the property without permits and an approved site plan amendment for the new uses at the resort. The resort’s owner, local builder Shawn Kaleta, is being fined $1,000 per day in code compliance fines and the site plan changes are outstanding. Titsworth said the site plan proposal is scheduled to come back before commissioners for discussion on Sept. 15.
Without an approved site plan or the proper permits and a pending court case in Manatee County Circuit Court, commissioners said that while they feel for the couple, they can’t approve any wedding events taking place at the Bali Hai. In addition, during a previous public hearing, attorneys for the Bali Hai said the resort would not be hosting weddings or seeking to host them in the future. In stark contrast to that statement, the Bali Hai’s website features a wedding planning page featuring events at the resort for up to 150 guests.
Grateful to Murphy, Naeher and Schofield both expressed their disappointment and anger at Bali Hai.
Schofield said she’s upset the resort sold her a wedding package that it wasn’t legally able to deliver. Now, she said, she has seven weeks to figure out what to do about the wedding and guests and has lost time that could be used to plan if they had found out up front that their reception couldn’t take place at their chosen venue.
Naeher said that when their application for the wedding was submitted to the city in July, he was told the reason it was denied was the lack of a parking plan for their 100 guests, something he thought could be easily remedied. Instead, while commissioners were willing to consider the wedding ceremony on the beach, an application for the reception, which would need to be submitted to the city for approval by representatives for the Bali Hai, would not be approved.
Commissioner Jayne Christenson said she thinks Bali Hai would go through with hosting the wedding reception whether it’s approved by commissioners or not.
If the wedding reception went forward at Bali Hai, the couple could end up with police officers or code compliance officers at their celebration and a fine being issued if there’s a noise complaint from nearby residential neighbors and a fine for the resort for hosting an event that’s not allowed to take place on the property and without a special event permit.
Titsworth said the court case is progressing as quickly as it can through the legal system and that the city will not give up the fight to bring the resort into compliance with city regulations.