LONGBOAT KEY -- Eleven more seats at a restaurant doesn't sound like much, but with Longboat Key's limited parking and narrow streets, Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub will have to plead its case to take in extra diners.
Restaurateur Ed Chiles is proposing to add a second-story tree house dining room to his Longboat Key restaurant and move all dining seating outdoors with the exception of 12 bar seats. It will be up to the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board to decide, but the town's top planning official said she cannot support the added seats at Mar Vista, 760 Broadway.
"With 10 to 15 employees on site at any given time, they're either using up half the vehicle parking, or they're parking on the street already. We already know the village has narrow streets, lots of cars parking everywhere and people walking. I just don't feel professionally and in good conscience I can approve the additional seats," Alaina Ray, director of planning, zoning and building for Longboat Key said during a Development Review Committee meeting Tuesday morning in which staff provides basic responses and information about a development application. No binding decisions can be made at those meetings.
Ray said Chiles will have to show why 11 more seats will not adversely influence the neighborhood's quality of life in both his final application and to the planning board. The restaurant seats 169 people now.
"We have a chance here to create a world-class iconic building," Chiles said of his tree house design overlooking Sarasota Bay. "It's unlike anything I've seen or been involved in, and I think it will make a great statement for our area."
Figuring out the parking requirements went deep into untangling years of prior approvals and waivers granted to Mar Vista. The town granted a special exception for 11 more seats when it approved a 2010 plan, but that special exception expired, so Chiles has to reapply.
"We've been working for a couple years now to do the best project we can in there," Chiles said. "That's what we're working toward. Eleven seats specifically, we have the right to have those under the codes that they have there."
Ray said she is taking a fresh perspective on the development as project lead, trying to cut through some of the prior decisions that might have been confusing. Essentially, Ray said, the new construction will be based on the town's regular parking standards, which is key because seats are formulated by available parking.
The planning board also has to make a decision or propose conditions for outdoor dining on the second floor, Ray said, because the town's code only addresses parking calculations for first-floor outdoor dining.
Furthering the parking arithmetic, Longboat Key recently decided parking on Broadway would be restricted to the south side, which takes away two spots on the north side of the street.
Ray will recommend approval of the site plan for the second-story dining in her staff report.
"I love the outdoor dining, I love the second floor," Ray said. "I think it will be a much better view."
The tree house includes a proposed elevator as well as stairs for diners. The bottom floor will retain a bar and a retail area, according to plans filed with the town.
The Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board will hear Mar Vista's case at 9 a.m. Dec. 16 at Longboat Key Town Hall where the public can weigh in. The planning board's decision is final in Longboat Key, but the board can always defer to the Longboat Town Commission.
Ray said as planning director she could have made the decision on whether to accept or deny a special exemption application, but instead, she said she is letting the planning board make the decision to allow a public hearing. The Development Review Committee meetings, while open, don't allow public input.
The other major recommendation from staff is to resurface and regrade the property as significant stormwater drainage is flowing directly into Sarasota Bay during heavy rains. Public Works Director Juan Florensa recommended that the sandy parking surface be replaced with a different surface.
"Whether that's a nonpervious surface or some kind of material that is nonerodible," he said. "What I have seen in those plans is not satisfying me."
Project engineer Lynn Townsend Burnett said that grading the property is in the works.
For Chiles, this will be the final of his three island restaurants to undergo significant renovations.
The 20-year-old BeacHouse Restaurant in Bradenton Beach opened its new dining room in March and the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria finished renovations in 2012. After Mar Vista, he said he's done renovating and trying to navigate three island municipalities.
"I'm not going to do these restaurants again," Chiles said. "I've been at it for 35 years. I think we've been good at reflecting the nature and characteristic of our communities the way we've done these."