Only three people spoke out in opposition of a Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub site plan amendment and special exception approval at the Longboat Key Town Commission’s May 6 regular meeting. And only five people came out to a previous Planning and Zoning Board meeting during which board members reviewed the project.
Dozens more, though, have overloaded commissioners’ email accounts recently to oppose the project. The project increases restaurant seats by 11; includes a second-story waterfront dining addition; and adds a meeting room and a small deck to an adjacent historic house that could be used for private par-ties.
Currently, the restaurant at 760 Broadway has 169 indoor and outdoor seats.
The major difference in the application involves an old house, dubbed the Jordan House, which sits behind the restaurant closer to Broadway. The house is currently used for storage, and Mar Vista owner Ed Chiles hopes to use it for small gatherings.
Village residents have expressed concern with the approval and are worried the restaurant’s total maximum occupancy capacity (either sitting or standing) now reaches 331 total possible patrons.
Chiles, though, said the 331 number is one he will never come close to reaching. Chiles said he would never allow more than 60 people in the meeting space above the Jordan House. If the restaurant is full in season, he said he will not schedule gatherings in the meeting room at the same time.
“There’s a lot of misinformation going around,” Chiles said. “The bottom line is, when we are at capacity in season, we won’t have an event in the meeting space.”
Chiles also said although the meeting space might be used to host small wedding receptions, he has no intention of making Mar Vista a wedding destination spot like his two restaurants on Anna Maria Island.
There will be no sit-down dining seats placed in the 1,000-square-foot meeting space above the Jordan House.
“It’s not for weddings and large parties,” Chiles said. “This is more of a meeting space that can even be utilized by our neighboring groups like the Village Association and the Historical Society.”
A contingency of the approval allows staff to pull outdoor dining seats if it observes too much congestion on Broadway and at the restaurant. If the restaurant doesn’t comply, staff also has the right to rescind the special exception.
“There are provisions I have agreed to that include the town being able to jerk my seats away if I’m out of line,” Chiles said. “The town has a gun to my head, and I would be stupid not to comply.”
Chiles also said he will have a valet service on standby if it’s needed during season.
The contingencies, though, don’t assuage the concerns of some nearby residents, who fear too much noise and traffic congestion in season.
“I would like to understand how you could approve a new events center at the restaurant that will hold 151 more occupants when there is clearly not enough parking for this many customers,” wrote Village resident Allan Luke to commissioners.
Wrote Village resident Chris Tatreau: “This will change the entire look and feel of the Village.”
The Longbeach Village Association is also sending out a petition to residents, asking them to sign it if they “object to this growth in traffic, noise and parking.”
In a May 10 email, Longbeach Village Association President Michael Drake asked commissioners to reconsider the vote. He said the vote shouldn’t have occurred after many residents have left for the summer.
“I sincerely hope you will rethink this approval and go with the plans they originally submitted of an increase of 11 (seats) in the restaurant,” Drake wrote.
Vice Mayor David Brenner responded to some emails from residents. He alluded to the fact that he’s open to reconsidering the approval.
“Because only five people appeared at the April planning board meeting and even fewer at the May commission meeting, I believed there were few real concerns with this application,” Brenner wrote. “The flurry of recent emails suggests otherwise. I am prepared to work with the applicant and concerned Village residents to find an acceptable accommodation.”
Commissioners Jack Duncan and Pat Zunz were the two commissioners who voted against the project. They cited parking, safety and site-congestion concerns in the residential neighborhood.
Chiles held a meeting with some Village residents Tuesday, at Mar Vista, to address their concerns. Both residents and Chiles called the meeting productive.
At that meeting, Chiles said he would consider writing a letter to the Town Commission, which the Village Association could sign off on, that stipulates the meeting space isn’t for weddings and won’t have more than 60 people inside of it for a gathering.
“Some people are legitimately concerned, and I understand that, but I am not doubling the size of the restaurant and this is not an event center,” Chiles said. “I have a history on this Key since 1989 of being a good neighbor and running a good operation. That’s not going to change.”