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Longboat Key Friday, Nov. 27, 2020 1 year ago

Expansion plans move forward for Harry's Continental Kitchens

Harry's is planning to expand its indoor and outdoor dining.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Harry’s Continental Kitchens has continued with plans to expand its dining area and increase the number of parking spaces at its establishment.

Longboat Key’s Planning and Zoning Board voted 6-0 on Nov. 17 in favor of a special exception submitted by Harry’s owner Harry Christensen and agent Robert Rokop.

“This action by the Planning and Zoning Board is considered final,” P&Z Chair David Green said. “This is not a recommended action. It does not go to the town commission for further action.”

The exception allows for the expanded use of Harry’s restaurant and outdoor dining in the existing structure at 535 St. Judes Drive. Harry’s plans to remove the yellow structure next door at 547 St. Judes Drive and replace it with an additional parking lot. The proposed new off-street parking area abides by the town’s new parking standards that require one parking space for every 150 feet of indoor and outdoor space.

Harry's plan is demolish the yellow building at 547 St. Jude's Drive to construct a parking lot with 14 spaces. The plans calls for redeveloping the pink building at 535 St. Jude’s Drive.

Specifically, Harry’s plans to redevelop the existing pink single-family home at 535 St. Jude’s Drive into a 1,500-square-foot-indoor facility with a 600-square-foot dining area.

The homes are in a commercially zoned area, currently used for storage, and were built in 1946. Christensen and his wife Lynn established Harry's in 1979.

Harry's uses the yellow house's lot at 547 St. Judes Drive for staff parking, but customers are not currently supposed to park there. During the season, there are times customers have no choice.

“You can see kind of the existing overflow parking that occurs at this property presently to serve Harry’s when season is in and a lot of traffic and folks are wanting to dine in this location,” town town planner Tate Taylor said.

After the proposed redevelopment, the lot would include an additional 12 parking spaces and two handicapped spaces.

Christensen spoke before the P&Z Board about why he’s planning to expand Harry’s.

“The whole reason for doing this expansion is basically because of the COVID that happened [in] March,” Christensen said. “We’ve been shut down and locked down and 25% capacity and 50% capacity.

“And, I’ve started this process back in May to try to get my seating that we’ve lost so I can keep my employees and have the people that have been working for me and their families capable of surviving.”

Christensen said he wasn’t sure how long the COVID-19 pandemic would last, and how long his establishment would need to accommodate social distancing measures.

Rokop, who is an agent representing Christensen and his special exception application, claimed the plans would also improve stormwater management on St. Judes Drive, which is often problematic.

“This is an issue I always pay particular attention to on every project,” Rokop said. “Our intent is not to contribute additional stormwater to the street, but rather contain it on site.”

P&Z Board Vice Chair Phill Younger explained why he is in favor of Christensen’s proposal.

“I think that it’s certainly trying times for all business and particularly restaurants, and I think it’s commendable that he is trying to improve the facility and provide Longboat Key with a greater dining option, and do so within compliance with our codes,” Younger said.

Before Longboat Key’s new parking rules took effect in June, the town previously required one parking space for every four seats.

On Oct. 15, Harry’s received approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a variance to reduce the required distance of the proposed parking area surface to the street from 20 feet to 6 feet.

Harry’s next step is to submit a site development plan for the P&Z Board to review. It could happen as soon as Dec. 15, which is when the board is scheduled to next meet. The plan will not go before the town commission.

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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