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Longboat Key Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009 8 years ago

Harry's loses outdoor seating

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

Harry’s Continental Kitchens, 525 St. Judes Drive, has been stripped of all of its outdoor dining seats — about 36 in total — because town staff said the restaurant never applied for the seats in the first place.

Owner Harry Christensen called the loss of the seats “unbelievably frustrating.”

Code Enforcement Officer Heidi Micale told The Longboat Observer she reviewed outdoor dining at all of the restaurants on the island in September to make sure outdoor dining seats reflected what was approved. During that investigation, she discovered Harry’s had seats for which the restaurant and deli never applied.

Christensen, who expanded an outdoor dining area he has made available for patrons two years ago, said he thought the town allowed outdoor seating and didn’t know he had to request the seats.

“They took all my seats away from me right before the season starts,” Christensen said. “Apparently, I don’t have the proper permits for outdoor tables at my restaurant or the deli.”

During the town’s review of Harry’s outdoor seating, staff also discovered that parking spaces in front of and behind the deli are not legal and must be revised or removed. At least 10 parking spaces behind the deli, Christensen said, must be removed and re-landscaped as a part of Joan M. Durante Park. In addition, three parking spaces in front of the deli must be converted to two parallel parking spaces.

The restaurant and deli combined has about 28 parking spaces today.

Christensen said his wife and restaurant co-owner, Lynn, is working with the Planning, Zoning and Building Department to apply for a special exception permit to get clearance for about 20 outdoor seats. The restaurant has 51 seats inside.

Any special exception request, however, still must come before the town’s Planning and Zoning Board and the Town Commission. Because of this, the restaurant and deli will be without outdoor dining seat for at least a couple of months.

“It’s hard enough to stay in business on this island and now I have to deal with this,” said Christensen, who explained that the issue has forced the opening of his new Corner Store on Gulf of Mexico Drive to be pushed back for at least another month. “All my time has now been consumed with counting seats and parking spaces.”

Lynn Christensen said she realizes she and her husband made a mistake is working to correct the restaurant’s non-conformities.

“Town staff is just doing their job and they are working with us diligently to get this corrected,” Lynn Christensen said.

Restaurant patrons, meanwhile, are coming back to the island for the season and are upset to discover they can’t eat outside.

More than 150 people have signed a sheet that’s located on the Deli counter, showing that they are pedestrians. Lynn Christensen said the list will be presented to Town Hall to show that not all restaurant patrons are coming by car. The list of people may help her receive a parking waiver for some of the restaurant's parking spaces.

“Dear Customers,

Our outside seating at the restaurant and deli has been removed due to a code violation. We want to continue to provide the residents and guests of Longboat Key with the highest level of food and services possible. We are in the process of doing a site plan amendment and special exception. It is a time consuming and expensive process to conform to the (town’s) codes. Let your town commissioners know how you feel about how our town has to enforce these codes on your commercial businesses on your island. Thank you for understanding.”

Longboat Key resident Lissy Howell LaFlamme was so upset with the removal of outdoor dining at the restaurant that she wrote an e-mail to the Town Commission Tuesday, Nov. 3, urging the seats to be reinstated.

“By taking this wonderful amenity away from Harry and Lynn, it has also been taken away from me and many others," she wrote. "It was a pleasure that I looked forward to weekly. I wish the town would work with Harry and Lynn to reach a resolution instead of 'pulling the plug’ altogether on this wonderful island experience. I am asking you as commissioners why the town codes make it so difficult for our businesses to operate and survive on this island? In my opinion, the town codes need to be changed. Otherwise, they are hurting us all.”

Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].

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