BRADENTON BEACH – The city’s expanded outdoor seating allowances for restaurants and bars will remain in effect for the foreseeable future.
On May 19, the city commission reached the unanimous consensus that it was not ready to set an expiration date for the temporary outdoor dining and seating allowances adopted in a 2020 city ordinance and renewed and clarified in 2021 to assist local restaurants, bars and retail businesses with their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thursday’s decision allows establishments to continue using their expanded outdoor seating areas, including those that feature live music.
Thursday’s discussion was prompted by comments that Old Bridge Village condominium residents Bruce Herard and David Bell made during the commission’s May 6 meeting. Herard and Bell urged the commission to allow the temporary seating allowances provided for in Ordinance 21-533 to expire because there are no longer any federal, state or local social distancing requirements imposed on restaurants, bars and other establishments.
Herard also expressed concerns about the volume and location of the live music at the nearby Bridge Tender Inn. Bell expressed concerns about temporary tents that are not allowed by city code becoming permanent fixtures.
Debate and discussion
When Thursday’s discussion began, Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said, “I’m all for helping the businesses, but I think it’s time we helped the citizens.”
Vosburgh said she recently received a phone call from a resident on Fifth Street South who said he and his wife are having “a terrible time with the noise” that is diminishing their enjoyment of their home. However, after hearing from business owners, employees and other commission members, Vosburgh changed her mind and expressed support for continuing the expanded seating allowances.
Commissioner Jake Spooner said COVID-19 cases are surging again and this is not the time to reduce outdoor seating. He suggested the expanded seating allowances remain in effect at least until the summer tourist season slows in mid-August. He said this would also benefit the employees who rely on their June and July earnings to help get them through the slower late summer and early fall months.
During public input, Drift In manager Doreen Flynn said many customers don’t want to sit inside anymore and feel more comfortable sitting outside in the expanded, tent-covered seating area. Flynn said residents experiencing noise issues need to call the police.
Bridge Tender Inn owner Fred Bartizal said, “I love the Bridge Tender and I hate to see it attacked. Our seating is approved. We did not add any seating. The seating would not change. We would still have outside entertainment because we had that before COVID. All we added were the tents.”
Bartizal compared the residents’ noise complaints to those made by people who purchase homes near an airport and then complain about the noise.
Drift In owner Joe Cuervo said he lost more than $800,000 in revenues during the pandemic and is just now starting to catch up on those losses.
Wicked Cantina owner Mike Dolan said the additional outdoor seating keeps customers and employees safe.
“70% of our business is on the patio. We have empty tables inside. People will wait up to an hour to sit outside because of COVID,” he said.
He then held up a copy of that day’s Wall Street Journal which featured a story about the current surge in COVID cases.
Bell said most residents are pro-business and like being close the Bridge Street businesses. He then reiterated his concerns about the tents covering the expanded seating areas.
“A lot of the restaurants didn’t take this tent option because their kitchens and their staffs are limited and they can’t serve food to that many people, but the bar can expand. The tents are permitting the expansion of alcohol sales. If we want to open the front door to expanding liquor sales then let’s do it the right way. Let’s not do this back door way,” he said.
Police Chief John Cosby said the Bridge Tender Inn has not been cited for any noise violations and when residents have asked for decibel meter readings, those readings were within the allowed noise limits.
Mayor John Chappie asked City Attorney Ricinda Perry to explain the commission’s options. Perry said the temporary ordinance must expire at some point but it’s up to the commission as to when that happens.
According to Ordinance 21-533, “This ordinance shall expire and be deemed to have been repealed once all COVID-related limitations to the operations of restaurants and retail locations impacting capacity of occupancy loads or social distancing requirements are no longer a recommendation by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alternatively, the city commission may sunset the ordinance at a noticed public hearing.”
When asked about current CDC recommendations, Perry checked the CDC website and said it still references social distancing and avoiding crowded places and indoor spaces that do not have fresh air circulating through them. The CDC website notes those recommendations pertain to individuals at high risk and/or not up to date on their vaccinations.
“In my opinion, CDC is still recommending social distancing,” Perry said.
Chappie reminded business owners that the extra seating is temporary and will expire at some point. He encouraged those who wish to make their seating allowances permanent to do so through the city’s codes and permitting processes.
Commissioner Ralph Cole said Bridge Street has always been the main commercial district and past and present commissions worked hard to implement a noise ordinance that requires compromise from businesses and residents and requires outdoor music to stop at 10 p.m.
When offering his final thoughts, Spooner said, “Getting rid of this expanded seating does nothing for noise.”
After noting the commercial district has made past concessions to residents, Spooner said, “If you’re not happy where you live, nobody’s forcing you to live there.”