A familiar establishment along Estero Boulevard could soon have a not-so-familiar look.
The Beached Whale at 1249 Estero Blvd. has been approved to expand their serving capacity by adding a front-side, outdoor dining deck where back-out parking spaces currently are situated. The Fort Myers Beach Town Council granted the special exception request with nine conditions.
The proposed deck, which will measure 626 square feet or less, will permit the establishment the right to serve alcohol and food outdoors, while offering television sets for sports viewing. Sliding doors are planned to be installed for egress and ingress to the building's indoors. All development orders and the building permit will be presented and reviewed by Town staff before construction approval.
The front parking area of The Beached Whale will be converted to a deck that will involve 636 square feet, outdoor alcohol consumption and food for those who like to enjoy the beautiful Florida weather.
The public hearing featured much discussion, rebuttals and negative impact comments during public comment from neighbors of the business and the expected, upcoming project.
"This just makes (the restaurant) more of a nice, outdoor place where people can go instead of being coup'ed up inside," said David Esterbrook, consultant for the applicant. "I think this project will kick off the fixing up of Estero Boulevard."
The nine conditions include alcohol consumption allowed indoors and on the upper and lower decks only, hours of consumption on the proposed deck from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., proposed roof overhangs must meet Town commercial design standards, permitting requirements for all work done, no parking spaces extending into Town right-of-way, retention area under deck for help storm water retention, seating capacity requirements and keeping the sliding doors closed except for passage while indoor music is being played.
Before the approval, Esterbrook agreed to push back the start time of alcohol consumption on the proposed deck from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m, due to public concern about children waiting at a nearby school bus stop between the two times. He also eliminated the request to allow non-amplified music at the proposed site.
However, television sets will be allowed, but the volume level must be in compliance with the current noise ordinance.
Visibility, noise and safety were the big issues raised by three residents of Primo Drive, the narrow-lane road to the immediate north of The Beached Whale, which lies in the pedestrian commercial future land use district. The property has frontage on three streets (Primo, Palermo Circle and Estero Boulevard), which creates a visibility triangle.
"I think (Town) staff did a horrible job with this. The Beach Whale asked them to expand their outdoor consumption on premises, yet staff said that they didn't include the COP for outdoor consumption on premises because we are not asking to change the upper deck," said Primo Drive resident Tracey Gore. "How can they expand something that they don't have?
"It is terrifying to come out of our street. There is already a lot of difficulty at night," added neighbor Janette Swanson. "It's a terrible flaw to have a bar at the corner. Now, if you have the bar expanded, it will make it a lot worse."
There was no animosity towards the establishment staff and operation. Some of the previous, conditional requests were questioned, however.
"I am opposed to outdoor entertainment going down my street. I am opposed to the deck being so far out that it will block me when I pull in and out of the street and dangerous to my daughter," said Gore. "People are concerned with the little things. The current conditions upstairs are very ambiguous. I think this should go back to the drawing board and back to the LPA."
Town staff explained the special permit for the upstairs deck was not included in the packet for the LPA because the upstairs deck was not involved in the request.
"The request from the applicant was to deal with a whole new deck on a different level and with consumption on premises on that (lower) deck," said Leslee Dulmar, zoning coordinator for the Town.
"The upstairs deck was not part of the request. So, we did not include a previous approval that had nothing to do with the request. We did include it in our Council packet as a response to a lot of questions and concerns that were brought up subsequent to the LPA hearing."
The Town's Local Planning Agency unanimously approved the request during a hearing on April 9, 2013. The approval also included recommendations from staff and the conditions.
However, at Council's hearing, LPA member Joanne Shamp stated that some of the information (including hours and conditions for COP and music of surrounding properties, location of nearby stop sign for visibility reasons, bus stop information) was not made available during the committee's hearing.
Some of the information was clarified on Monday. The height of the proposed deck was stated to be approximately 42 inches with six feet separating the proposed deck and the delineated crosswalk. There is no buffering required in the downtown zoning district, and vegetation was cited as adding to the visibility issue.
While alcohol consumption is limited from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on the proposed deck, food can be served there as early as 7 a.m.
Previously the establishment had parking on all four sides of the building. The removal of the back-out spaces along Estero Boulevard will help in the flow of traffic along that corridor.
"Staff is always encouraged to see property owners that are willing to help this congestion and traffic situation by removing any spaces that back out onto Estero Boulevard," said Dulmar. "This eliminates more car-car and car-pedestrian conflicts."
Councilman Bob Raymond would like to see "real" sidewalks in front of the business instead of the current painted delineation once a front-side deck is approved to be constructed. Unfortunately, that area is a Lee County right-of-way and Town has no say in the matter.
"If the deck is six feet back of the painted lines, do you honestly believe that no one will park on top of the sidewalk and that space? If you had real sidewalks, that would help with the pedestrians and no one would try to pull in there," he said.
Councilwoman Jo List lives in the neighborhood and understands the impact that a new deck can have to the Beach residents.
"There has been a lot more regard to business interest in the Town," she said. "We are all investors in our community. People and Primo and Palermo have sustained huge impacts and relentless encroachments on their quiet lives over the years. There is no denying it. But, these guys (The Beach Whale owners) are taxpayers too, and they are employing islanders that need jobs and providing food and entertainment for our guests and locals, too."