St. Pete Beach considers outdoor dining ordinance

By Josh Rojas, Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, April 10, 2015, 7:16 AM EDT

St. Pete Beach city leaders are expected to take their first vote on an outdoor dining and beverage ordinance on Tuesday that would cover the entire city after complaints that only select businesses are currently allowed to have the perk, according to Mayor Maria Lowe.

"As a commission we decided that we had a lack of policy for the whole city," Lowe said. "This ordinance is really to ensure that others, other businesses and other restaurants in the city, have an equal and fair opportunity."

The owner of the Swigwam Beach Bar, Robert Williams, said his customers want to be able to drink on the large wooden chairs on the sidewalk out front of his business and hopes the city commission changes the current policy.

"It just seems like it's not fair," he said. "Now we have a new administration, a new mayor and new commissioners who seem to be working towards making it more fair."

Williams points out that customers next door at Jackie's Bistro can have drinks at outdoor tables near the sidewalk.

The owner of Jackie's Bistro, Jacquelin Smit, said the difference is her table and chairs are on her private property not on a portion of the public sidewalk like the Swigwam's large wooden chairs. Smit also said the city used to allow Swigwam customers to drink out front of the business but that privilege was taken away in 2012.

"He was given the opportunity to drink out on the street and public knowledge, it was taken away from him by the city for things that happened at his establishment with his patrons," she said. "Way before I came to the street."

Williams said he believes the privilege was yanked due to politics from the previous administration and denies it was because of drunk rowdy patrons outside his bar.

Jackie's Bistro also has tables and chairs on public parking spaces in front of her business. Smit said she serves food along with drinks and spent a lot of money to delineate the outdoor dining area. The Jackie's Bistro owner said she'd be fine if Williams wanted to put a beer garden in front of the Swigwam.

"If he wanted to do something on the street, spend a little money, make it beautiful and I believe the city will let him do it," Smith said. "I think it's great the more businesses that do it, the better it is. But... you've got to follow the policies and procedures that were put in place by the state.";

Mayor Lowe said at least three other businesses, Rick's Reef, Smiley's Snack Shack and Madeleina Cottage, also want to add outdoor dining at their establishments.

The new dining and beverage ordinance calls for outdoor drinking or outdoor dining areas located within the public right of way need to have a perimeter, cannot block the sidewalk, no smoking and must be approved by the city commission.

Lowe said the proposed language could be changed at a workshop on Tuesday and a big sticking point will be whether or not to allow businesses that serve only alcohol, like the Swigwam, to have an outdoor drinking area.

The Swigwam owner said he's not interested in building an outdoor drinking area and wants his customers to be able to drink on the chairs in front of his business.

"I don't know if I want to have the bar in the street," Williams said. "To me it seems like a liability issue and someone could get hurt."

The city commission is expected to vote on the dining ordinance during their meeting directly following the workshop on Tuesday.