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Commissioners also voted to fund the legal defense of Commissioner Susan Chapman for another 3 months in a Government-in-the-Sunshine lawsuit.
Sarasota Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 4 years ago

City Commission seeks to increase downtown activity

by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

The Sarasota City Commission approved two measures at its meeting Monday that are designed to increase the variety and activity within the public right-of-way downtown.

Commissioners approved a 180-day trial period for a sidewalk café at A. Parkers. Books, and directed staff to look into expanding the city’s sidewalk café ordinance to include businesses that serve neither food nor alcohol.

Following Main Street improvement efforts, both A. Parkers Books and the Gator Club applied for sidewalk cafés on the bulb-out near Lemon Avenue. Neither application could be accepted under current city regulations, which require a sidewalk café to be operated by a business that serves food.

The Gator Club application was considered at Monday’s meeting, but commissioners unanimously voted against expanding the ordinance to allow bars to operate sidewalk cafés. Gator Club owner Larry Siegel said he was disappointed with the commission’s decision, but indicated he would look into offering food service at the bar in order to obtain a café permit.

“My intention is to enhance downtown, not to disparage it and not to ruin it,” Siegel said.

Commissioners also supported a 180-day pilot program in which up to six pianos would be placed on public sidewalks during the day. Local businesses would help sponsor the pianos, and store them inside during the night. Local artists would decorate the Spinet pianos, and the public would be free to play the instruments.

The Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County backed the proposal to place the pianos on sidewalks downtown. Similar programs in London and New York City inspired the proposal, according to former City Commissioner Ken Shelin, who developed the idea.

The commission approved the program by a 3-2 vote. Vice Mayor Willie Shaw expressed concerns about the nuisance the pianos might create, and Commissioner Susan Chapman said the idea wasn’t original to the city; both commissioners voted against the proposal.

Mayor Shannon Snyder and Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Paul Caragiulo backed the program, which they said promoted interactivity and was a fun branding opportunity for downtown. Caragiulo acknowledged the potential drawbacks of the proposal, but said the commission could always take back its approval.

“If it turns out to be the worst idea ever, we could just set them all on fire,” Caragiulo said of the pianos.

Also at Monday’s meeting:

• The commission delayed the implementation of paid parking at the Palm Avenue garage. The paid parking program was originally slated to begin Jan. 6, but Louies Modern owner Steve Seidensticker requested the program be delayed until after the conclusion of the season. Although commissioners failed to act on this request at a Nov. 18 meeting, they agreed to hear a comprehensive report regarding the city’s parking policy from the Parking Advisory Committee before implementing paid parking.

• The commission approved a moratorium on special events in St. Armands Circle Park during the height of the 2014 season. The moratorium was a response to a fear from landowners, merchants and residents on the Circle that special events cause added congestion and compete with local businesses during the busiest time of the year.

• Commissioners emphasized the importance of advisory board members using their city-issued email accounts to conduct city business. Before any advisory boards meet again, members of the board have to acknowledge the city policy that requires board members to use their city-issued email accounts to conduct city business.

The discussion was in response to a records request for emails sent by Marty Rappaport, St. Armands Business Improvement District director. Since Rappaport had sent emails relating to city business from a personal email account rather than a city-issued account, the city had to hire a forensic examiner to recover deleted emails from Rappaport’s personal computer.

Rappaport said at a November BID meeting that he was being targeted by the not-for-profit group Citizens for Sunshine and paralegal Michael Barfield, and that logging into the city email was a burden. Rappaport said he would consider resigning over the issue, although he declined to comment following Monday’s meeting.

• Despite the recommendation of City Attorney Robert Fournier, commissioners declined to fully fund the legal defense of Chapman in a Government-in-the-Sunshine lawsuit. The suit, filed by Citizens for Sunshine, originally named the city, Chapman and Atwell as defendants; the other two parties reached settlements. Chapman has indicated her interest in fighting the suit, but the city has no obligation to pay for her legal fees unless she is ultimately found to have not violated the Sunshine Law. Commissioners instead agreed to fund Chapman’s legal fees for another 90 days.

Contact David Conway at [email protected].

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