Throughout the holiday week, YourObserver.com will be counting down the top 12 stories of 2010 (one from each month) from our Longboat, East County and Sarasota Observers. Check back each day for a reprinting — and any relevant updates — of the biggest news items of the year.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED June 17, 2010
After being contacted by a Siesta Key condo owner, Sarasota County found an ordinance in its zoning code that prevented a pizza shop from parking at the beach a van that advertised its business.
For about a year, Solorzano Bros. Pizzeria, located in Siesta Key Village, has used the unusual marketing tool of painting a van with its logo and phone numbers and legally parking it along Beach Road in front of Siesta Key Beach.
Much to the dismay of some condo owners, it is also parked across the street from the Sunset Royale and Crescent Royale condominiums.
The van has been vandalized three times. Twice, witnesses said senior citizens were the vandals. In one incident, a man was seen slashing the van’s tires, and in another, someone put glue in a keyhole and on one of the doors.
“Don’t try to put me out of business,” said Phil Solorzano, co-owner of the pizza shop. “That’s fuel to my fire.”
Solorzano Bros. has also complained about receiving harassing phone calls. According to a sheriff’s office report, deputies visited a Crescent Royale condo owner to tell her to stop calling the shop.
That woman, Donna Grimmer, owns a condo on the first floor of Crescent Royale, and she has filed a sheriff’s report alleging that pizza-shop employees have made harassing phone calls to her as well.
Grimmer also sent e-mails to County Commissioner Nora Patterson and county staff.
“If you paid for a first-floor condo, knowing that the condo had a beautiful view of the Gulf, but finding that after putting your savings and hard work into the condo that the view you got every day and every night was of a red pizza van parked just for the purpose of advertising, how would you react?” she wrote in an e-mail.
The parking spaces are 24-hour spots, and the pizza shop complied with the law by moving the van into a new space every day. After being told by police that the pizza shop was not doing anything illegal, Grimmer appealed to Patterson, who is up for re-election this year.
“Elections are soon,” Grimmer wrote. “This challenge can make a difference for you, Nora, as well as to all elected public officials, as we look to those who are willing to show real effort where change is needed.”
Patterson said she receives many requests for action from citizens and has no problem telling those citizens when their request or complaint has no merit. In this case, she said she believes the complaint had merit.
Sandra Jones, the county’s assistant zoning administrator, said code enforcement had been looking at the section of the zoning ordinances that prohibits vehicle signs, which says that signs on vehicles parked at the place of business are not allowed. (The Solorzano Bros. van was parked off site at the beach.)
“We were reading the code on vehicle signs and got hung up on that,” she said.
Jones then discovered code that prohibited off-site advertising and advertising on public property, and she applied those prohibitions to the pizza shop’s van. The county ordered the van be removed from the beach last week, which has angered Solorzano Bros. owners.
“I get a minimum of four deliveries every day from that van being parked there,” said Solorzano. “I’d lose up to 30% of my business if I can’t park on Beach Road.”
The shop owner said some of the tactics by his opponents have backfired, including the time someone placed “Boycott Solorzanos” fliers at every door in the two condo complexes. The flier instructed people to buy their pizza from Siesta Smeag’s Pizzeria, which has since gone out of business. Solorzano said he got more calls than usual that week from those condos.
Patterson said she has nothing against the business. She said her only problem with the van is that it takes away parking spaces from tourists.
“I wish their business very well, but parking is really short,” she said. “It’s really not fair (to constantly occupy a spot).”
Grimmer said that’s her main concern, as well.
“When anyone abuses something, they should lose their privileges,” she said.
Solorzano believes the county is unfairly targeting his business.
“They’re supposed to be supporting local businesses,” he said. “(But) they’re trying to put us out of business.”
Illegal-parking complaint July 23, 2009
Scratch marks left on van Sept. 4, 2009
Complaint note left on van Sept. 9, 2009
Keyhole and door super-glued Sept. 14, 2009
Van tires slashed Dec. 6, 2009
Harassing phone calls May 10, 2010
Two weeks after the story ran, Solorzano reported business had boomed because of the publicity. He also vowed to comply with the new rules. "I want to get along with everyone and make everyone happy," he said. "I don't want this to escalate."
Contact Robin Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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