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Proposal for dining, entertainment spot worries Lakewood Ranch residents

Some residents fear plans for Backyard Social will threaten the hours and character of the Lakewood Ranch community.

The location in Fort Myers provides an idea of what to expect in Lakewood Ranch if the project is approved.
The location in Fort Myers provides an idea of what to expect in Lakewood Ranch if the project is approved.
Photo by Stefania Pifferi
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Despite its rapid growth, Lakewood Ranch remains a sleepy community past midnight, and some people want to keep it that way. 

Backyard Social, a proposed dining and entertainment establishment off Professional Parkway, west of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and very close to Interstate 75, was met with opposition from nearby residents and Alcove developer Pat Neal because plans include live music and late hours. The Alcove neighborhood is about a half mile from the proposed social club.

Applicants, Mat Baum and John Mann, are seeking a special exception to stay open beyond what Sarasota’s Unified Development Code allows. They also want to offer “outdoor activities,” which will include live music and games.

While Backyard Social is technically a restaurant, it won’t have a kitchen. Instead, food trucks will be parked outside. Games include duckpin bowling, darts, corn hole and shuffleboard. 

The two closest neighborhoods are to the south of the site in Sarasota County – the Alcove by Neal Signature Homes and Avanti at Waterside by Pulte Homes. 

A restaurant is a permitted use for the area, which is zoned Planned Commerce Development. The proposed 10-acre site is part of a larger 188-acre parcel owned by the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park.

A mandatory step in gaining a special exception for a project is to hold a neighborhood meeting. The meeting took place over Zoom on March 5.

Baum said the hours of operation were not “set in stone,” but he and Mann want to be sure the restaurant can stay open until 2 a.m. on special occasions like St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo.

“Let me say sweetly, we’d like you to revise your application to say what you mean,” Neal said. “We’re going to have to organize a group and be represented because 2 a.m. is late in Sarasota.” 

Neal was not alone in that stance. About a half dozen residents joined the Zoom meeting to say the proposed hours are “unreasonable” and “excessive.” They fear Backyard Social will set a bad precedent. 

“This is more of a theoretical question,” said local resident Stanley Morrow. “What makes you think the folks at Waterside won’t feel the need to compete with you?” 

This rendering of Backyard Social was presented to residents on March 5 at a neighborhood meeting.
Courtesy image

However, Backyard Social would not be the first establishment to offer extended hours in the area. Baum owns Agave Bandido at Waterside Place, too. The restaurant opened March 11, and stays open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. 

The breakfast eatery Forked has also dipped its toes into the late-night scene with Forked at Night, which features live music and DJs on select weekends inside until 2 a.m. The rest of the surrounding restaurants in Waterside close by midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.

Without a special exception, the development code limits outdoor dining, drinking and entertainment to the hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday and 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. 

The code also states that the sale and consumption of food and beverages outside of the given hours “shall take place only within a completely enclosed structure.” 

Morrow is a member of the Waterside Neighborhood Alliance. He said the group will be meeting soon to discuss the trend of later hours in the area. 

“I think what Backyard Social wants to do is alarming,” Morrow said, “But perhaps there might be a less intrusive approach by some of the Waterside Place restaurants. We will evaluate.” 

Residents requested a sound study be submitted as part of Backyard Social’s application.

Following the meeting, Baum said he planned to meet each request. A sound study will be completed, and the application will be revised to clearly state the hours of operation versus the live music schedule. 

Baum and Mann opened the first Backyard Social in Fort Myers four months ago. Only ages 21 and up can stay past 9 p.m., but the establishment is family friendly during the day. Inside, bands and DJs play until 1 or 2 a.m. Outside, the bands wrap up between 9 and 11 p.m. 

Baum said they’ll be following the same model in Lakewood Ranch and that the two locations are similar in that both have upscale residential developments within a mile radius. So far, the Fort Myers location hasn’t received any noise complaints. 

Morrow isn’t convinced.

“This is a clear threat to the character of our community,” he said. “If this late night dance and party club is allowed to open, it will only encourage similar type operations in the Waterside business center. This is not the Lakewood Ranch community I signed on to and am already organizing an opposition.” 



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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