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Longboat Key Planning Board sets aside restaurant proposal

Board votes to prepare on order of denial for proposed Lo' Key Tiki Bar and Grill.

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  • | 3:00 p.m. March 15, 2022
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Longboat Key's Planning and Zoning Board voted on Tuesday to set aside a pair of decisions that would have paved the way for redevelopment of a former hair salon into a restaurant and Tiki bar.

In front of a packed chambers, the board voted 7-0 to prepare an order of denial for a site-plan application and a special exception to land-use regulations put forward by owners of the proposed Lo' Key Tiki Bar. The decision effectively puts off until April a vote to officially deny the proposal.

The restaurant would have featured an open-air, roofed Tiki bar on the west side of the building at 5620 Gulf of Mexico Drive, erected to the edge of the property line. The owners planned 144 seats, all but five of which were planned within the open-air structure. 

"I'm worried about scale. I'm worried about compatibility," Planning and Zoning Board Chair David Green said before the vote.

"Too much, too far," Vice Chair David Lapovsky said.  

Residents expressed concerns about parking, traffic on adjacent Tarawitt Drive, noise and use of a nearby deeded beach access. Town regulations prohibit amplified music and voices or sound audible 50 feet away.

The nearest homes are across Gulf of Mexico Drive, though homes could be closer if a lot to the north is developed. A town referendum in 2018 opened the door for the addition of residential density on that land, though no plans have been filed. Bruce Franklin, who represents the owners of the land, said his clients have no objections to the proposals. 

"When you say 'Tiki,' everyone envisions this loud, raucous college bar," restaurant owner Kevin Pass said. "And if you excuse me, I don't see a lot of college kids here."

Ashlie Thomison, who lives nearby on St. Judes Drive, said a Tiki bar would change the way of life of her neighborhood. "If we all got together outside and started drinking, would you hear us from 50 feet away?" she said. "Would you hear us from 150 feet away?"

Jessica Nock, who lives on Tarawitt Drive, said "Lo' Key Tiki Bar will be an attractive nuisance," adding that she had concerns about "intoxicated, nonresident, transient" people on her street.

Resident John Connolly said he supported the project, saying with such new projects coming online on the island, such as the Sage and St. Regis condominiums, the town will need more and more on-island accommodations. 

"We're trying to put a lot in a small area, and it seems like we're trying to force it,'' board member Michael Warnstedt said, adding he wished the issue could be revisited. 

Attorney David Smith, who represents property owner Shawn Hamilton, said his client was amendable to cutting off access to a private deeded beach access across Gulf of Mexico Drive if it assuages concerns about restaurant customers unsafely crossing the street or leaving vehicles behind in the parking lot while visiting the beach. 

Hamilton purchased the building in January 2019 for $1.13 million. In 2021, Hamilton accepted Pass’ offer to a five-year lease for the property.

La Villa Mexican Restaurant at 5610 Gulf of Mexico Drive Suite 5 was approved by Planning and Zoning Board in December. At that time, owner Estela Villegas said she hoped to open her business by the summer. She already operates a Mexican restaurant in Valrico. 


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