Wicked Cantina expansion requires code interpretation

Wicked Cantina expansion requires code interpretation
The Wicked Cantina seeks to make permanent the expanded ground-level open-air dining area that sits next to the pre-existing elevated deck. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH – The Planning and Zoning Board supports Wicked Cantina owner Michael Dolan’s request to permanently expand his existing outdoor seating area, but another public hearing by the zoning board of appeals is required before the permitting request can be submitted to the city commission for final consideration.

On Nov. 16, the planning and zoning board continued its review of Dolan’s request to make permanent the temporarily expanded outdoor seating area originally allowed as part of the city’s 2020 response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June 2021, the city commission extended indefinitely a revised version of the 2020 ordinance that still allows restaurants and other business establishments to expand their outdoor seating areas and reduce their existing parking areas to provide more social distancing for patrons.

When extending those temporary allowances in 2021, Mayor John Chappie said the allowances would eventually expire and he encouraged business owners to take the necessary steps to make their temporary seating allowances permanent. Wicked Cantina is the first business to initiate the permitting process.

Dolan’s request was first discussed by the board in October. At that time, board members requested additional clarification on the setback and parking requirements set forth in the city’s land development code (LDC). They specifically questioned whether the restaurant’s expanded seating area would need to be set back at least 25 feet from the Gulf Drive right of way.

Code interpretation

During the Nov. 16 discussion, Building Official Steve Gilbert provided past and present versions of the land development code’s setback requirements for open-air dining. He noted the Wicked Cantina property located at 101 Seventh St. N. was approved for open-air dining in 2007 when a previous restaurant operated there.

According to the 2007 code, “Open-air dining areas located under roofed structures shall be subject to the minimum setback requirements for the structure. Tables, seating and umbrellas shall be permitted to be located on a grade-level patios or decks in open-air dining areas which are not located under a roof structure.”

Gilbert noted there’s no roof structure covering the restaurant’s original or expanded open-air dining areas.

He then cited the current code provision adopted in 2016: “Except for lots abutting Bridge Street, any awning or similar type of roof area used for open-air dining, along with open-air dining seats, shall meet the required setbacks of the zoning district.”

Gilbert said the current language could be interpreted either way regarding the 25-foot setback requirement.

“I don’t know why it got reworded this way. I think the original wording (in 2007) was clear,” he said. “In my opinion, the intent has always been that if it’s under a structure it’s subject to the setback requirements for the structure, which this is not. These are moveable tables and chairs sitting on the asphalt.”

Board chair Ken McDonough noted the expanded seating area is located within 25 feet of the Gulf Drive right of way. Gilbert said it’s located within 10-12 feet of the Gulf Drive right of way.

McDonough also noted the pre-COVID open-air dining area that’s long existed on the Wicked Cantina’s wooden deck is also located within 25 feet of the right of way but is not subject to the setback requirements because of a previously granted special exception.

Wicked Cantina expansion requires code interpretation
Michael Dolan is patiently pursuing the permit need to make Wicked Cantina’s expanded open-air dining area permanent. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Dolan, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Janice, said the 25- foot setback requirement would significantly impact his plans for a permanently expanded outdoor dining area adjacent to the deck. He said moving the outdoor dining area further east would impact the location of the existing handicapped parking spaces and plans to install a new access ramp.

Board member John Burns
noted the open-air dining setback requirements could also potentially impact Sharky’s Seagrill, Smoquehouse and the Gulf Drive Café – all of which are located along Gulf Drive – as well any other outdoor dining area not located within the Bridge Street overlay district.

City Planner Luis Serna said he and Gilbert interpret the current code to only require the 25-foot setback for open-air seating located under fixed or covered structures. Gilbert said he and Serna would like the board members to provide their interpretation as well.

Gilbert noted the planning board also serves as the city’s zoning board of appeals and in that capacity has the authority to interpret the LDC and relay those interpretations to the city commission for final consideration.

Burns said that day’s public hearing was being conducted by the planning and zoning board and an interpretation by the zoning board of appeals would require a separate publicly noticed meeting.

Wicked Cantina expansion requires code interpretation
The Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board consists of Fred Bartizal, John Burns, Ken McDonough, Bill Morrow and Dan Morhaus. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Gilbert, Serna and the board agreed that the Wicked Cantina’s expanded open-air dining area should not have to meet the 25-foot setback requirement and a zoning board of appeals hearing is needed to properly formalize that code interpretation. They also agreed that the reduction of parking spaces created by the expanded seating area still leaves the restaurant and the rest of the Dolan-owned plaza with enough parking spaces for the plaza tenants.

The board unanimously approved a motion stating the board’s finding that the current code is unclear as to whether setbacks are required for open-air dining areas not located under a roof structure. The motion also seeks city commission approval for the planning board and the zoning board of appeals to work with city staff to draft an ordinance that would adopt a new interpretation of the code pertaining to open-air dining setbacks.