Divisive Lido Pool plan vote Jan. 14 in City Hall

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It’s a vote that will shape both the atmosphere and experience of the Lido Beach Pool, Pavilion and surrounding neighborhood for the next three decades.

The Sarasota City Commission is due to vote on Jan. 14 at a 1 p.m. meeting on whether a plan to allow a waterfront restaurant, tiki bar, rental cabanas and event area is compatible with the existing beach and the surrounding residential communities.

The vote is the last hurdle for applicants Gavin Meshad and Troy Syprett who own the Daiquiri Deck restaurant and need the approval of what is called a Major Conditional Use in City zoning code.

The City approved a lease to allow the duo to renovate the dilapidated pavilion last spring and to allow the additional expansion of uses.

The issue has sent waves of property owners, business owners and residents to voice not only concern but outright disdain for what many see as a threat to a treasured and beloved public asset.

The City Planning Board, which serves in a specific capacity to advise the commission on Land Use and Development matters, voted 4-1 recommending that the commission deny the proposal last September.

Since the Planning Board acts in an advisory capacity, the commission will have the final say. Hundreds of residents packed City Hall at both the lease hearing as well as the Planning Board hearing and hours of comments from the residents as well as extensive debate and expert testimony led to the meetings lasting more than four hours each.

Additionally, more than 4,000 individuals have signed a petition opposing the proposal and hope that at least one commissioner, in addition to the two who ended up opposing the lease, change their mind. The lease was passed with Commissioner Hagen Brody, Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie and Mayor Liz Alpert voting in support of the agreement. Since that vote, Commissioner Willie Shaw and Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn Koch have fought against the plan and have both referenced the level of community opposition to the idea of transfering control of the property for a waterfront restaurant.

Meshad and Syprett have applied for their development plan under the name Lido Development Partners, LLC. They have vowed to retain the character of the existing pavilion, retain public access to the existing bathrooms, provide a shade structure, and enhance the pool area. They also are going to reconfigure or restripe the parking lot to create 20 additional spaces.

The issue of meeting Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations, which mandate that no improvements shall exceed 50 percent of the assessed value of the structures, was troubling to the Planning Board and discussed extensively prior to the final vote. One of the requirements for Major Conditional Use approval is to demonstrate the ability to meet FEMA requirements.

The applicant and city staff said that would be done in the permitting phases, while planning board members cited a requirement stating it must be accomplished prior to approval.

The Major Conditional Use approval is the city’s mechanism in its Zoning Code to determine if the bar, restaurant, event lawn, and hard liquor environment along with the live music acts are compatible with the neighboring residentially-zoned properties that surround the beach.

One of the other issues was the consensus on the Planning Board that the expansion in commercial activity into a waterfront restaurant and bar from simply a concession stand which exists today, would compete and on some levels usurp the primary use, which is the beach.

The existing concession stand closes at 4:30 p.m. and only serves beer and wine, which is a grandfathered use. It is typical accessory to beaches that can be found nationwide.

One issue for the Planning Board that impacts the neighborhood and may not sit well with the City Commissioners is that the applicant has not performed an actual traffic study or analysis but only a “concurrency” study.

Other issues that concerned residents is the proposed tiki bar will be situated directly in the path to the beach from the parking lot. That roiled families and beachgoers who do not want to have their children or walk by a bar surrounded by patrons drinking hard liquor on their way to the public beach. Other residents do not want their children to have to walk past the bar in order to use the public restrooms.

Another issue is conformance with the City’s Comprehensive Plan. One of the requirements is that non-conforming uses, such as the sale of liquor not be expanded. The proposal to expand restaurant operations at a bar and allow poolside drinking has been cited as a major expansion of non-conforming uses and not in compliance with the City’s own regulations.

The contract that was approved is not part of the consideration on Jan. 14. It is only the Major Conditional Use and if the city commission votes ‘No’ the restaurant plan will not continue. In that scenario, the city has in its Parks Budget, $1.4 million earmarked to renovate the restrooms and improve the facility.

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