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Sarasota goes ahead with controversial change for bars and night clubs

Written by on Saturday, February 24, 2024

New ordinances give more clarity to business owners, but neighbors fear more noise.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Feb. 21, 2024

Host: The Sarasota City Commission yesterday voted on controversial new regulations regarding bars and nightclubs in downtown. Ramon Lopez reports.

Ramon Lopez: The Sarasota City Commission voted at a special Tuesday night meeting to finalize and then formerly accept two controversial zoning text amendment ordinances controlling city bars and nightclubs. Commissioner Jen Ahearn Koch was the lone dissenter.

Supporters of the zoning amendment said the change will smooth relations between local business owners and city staff. Opponents fear nightclub proliferation will worsen matters between local residents who want quiet, and those who crave downtown nightlife.

The amendment turned into a year-long exercise to simplify the definitions of drinking and dining establishments. The intent is to prevent restaurants from operating as nightclubs, and dance halls from posing as restaurants.

The city commission initially passed the pair of ordinances attached to the amendment on first reading last month. The first updates the definition of bars, restaurants and nightclubs.  The second clarifies permissible uses and standards for each establishment.

Two alterations were made then: A proposed expansion of downtown’s exemption district, which controls the location of alcohol-consuming places, was scrapped.  It was also decided that restaurants would include those where meals are prepared off-site.

During public comment, local lawyer Dan Lobeck said enough is enough.

Dan Lobeck: We have a wonderful balance today. My wife and I, we walk downtown every week and enjoy the night life. Let’s not destroy it. Let’s not destroy the one thing that makes us Number One and draws people to our community, by ruining it against the will of the majority for the benefit of a special few.

RL: Southside Village resident Kim Kane agreed with Lobeck.

Southside Village

Kim Kane: I think your changes that you’re proposing will do nothing to enhance Southside Village, but I think it’ll only destroy the ambiance and the neighborhood feel that it has now. It’s a quiet area. It’s like you almost roll the streets up at night. It’s quiet after like 10 o’clock. It’s quiet. If you walk down there and of course, if you bring more alcohol to Southside Village, you’re going to bring drugs, and you’re going to bring violence as well. That’s just a given. 

RL: Ron Kashden, a candidate for the Sarasota City Commission, said much the same: Stop the expansion of outdoor bars.

Ron Kashden: No one has said Sarasota is ready, but it needs more bars.

RL: City Planning Director Steve Cover defended his department’s proposal.

Steve Cover: So to state that this is going to be causing more problems, more deaths, and things like that — we’re certainly not seeing it as a city, and the police department is not seeing it either.

RL: Commissioner Erik Arroyo favors the zoning change.

Erik Arroyo: What this does, is it clarifies it, the nightclubs, for the most intense use that we have under the code. Which still undergo our most intense process. But if someone was not trying to operate past 10-11 o’clock at night, if someone, if a business was trying to limit its impact with music and with everything that comes along with that, they would get a break. It only makes sense. You can now kind of have the same standard for someone operating a lemonade stand and someone operating a rooftop restaurant that serves alcohol. And this was done with that small business owner in mind.

RL: The restaurant and bar discussion took place as a false claims issue erupted over a racist Facebook post attributed to a neighborhood activist. The post turned out to be a fake, but not until after City Commissioner Kyle Battie reacted to it. In response, the community activist and alleged author of the racist post she did not produce, has sued Battie.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


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