CLEARWATER — Britt's Island Grill is located in a prime spot on Clearwater Beach, right alongside the BeachWalk promenade. Diners on its outdoor patio can look across S Gulfview Boulevard at sand, surf and sunbathers.
But, surprisingly often, the patio is deserted. That's because Britt's isn't allowed to sell beer out there. It's only inside that patrons can order a beer and sign a petition that's titled "Free the patio." The restaurant's Facebook page blares, "Britt's patio is being held prisoner!"
"We have food and non-alcoholic beverages out there, but people like to have a Corona with their sandwich and watch the water," said manager Jeff McClure, who added that they've laid off half the staff. "It's killing our business. It looks like our place is empty."
Meanwhile, just a minute's walk to the south, Crabby Bill's and Frenchy's both sell beer outside at their sidewalk cafes along BeachWalk. They sell plenty of beer, actually.
So what gives?
In this case, it's all about the zoning. And on Tuesday, city officials will take steps to solve Britt's problem.
The restaurant, which has been on Clearwater Beach for 20 years, reopened in mid-March on the ground floor of the beach's new public parking garage, next to an enormous Surf Style retail store.
It turns out that the six-story structure was built closer to BeachWalk than the nearby Crabby Bill's or Frenchy's restaurants.
"Britt's is built all the way up to the old center lane of Gulfview, which is where the land use category changes," said City Attorney Pam Akin.
The city's $20 million BeachWalk project eliminated waterfront parking lots, moved S Gulfview Boulevard a bit to the west, and transformed it into a winding promenade with expansive walkways, plazas, greenery and fountains.
The sidewalk cafes in front of Crabby Bill's and Frenchy's South Beach Cafe aren't on top of the BeachWalk itself. They're next to it. They're located in a tourist district, so they're allowed to serve alcoholic drinks. But Britt's patio is on the public right-of-way, on land that's zoned "open space/recreation," where alcohol is forbidden.
"We're going to revise the code to allow them to do it," Akin said. "We're trying to expedite it, but it takes a little while."
On Tuesday, the city's Community Development Board will consider changing the city codes to allow outdoor cafes to serve alcohol on BeachWalk. The change won't apply to other parts of Clearwater.
If the development board okays the change, then the City Council must vote on it — twice. The second vote makes it a law. That could happen sometime in July.
Clearwater staffers are working on these changes because the City Council told them to, but council members are helping Britt's a bit grudgingly. They say Britt's and the neighboring Surf Style store, which are owned by the same company, have pushed the limits when it comes to Clearwater's rules on outdoor advertising and displays of merchandise.
"They keep seeming to push us and test us," said Mayor George Cretekos.
He suggested the new ordinance have a "sunset" clause that would require an outdoor cafe's permit to be renewed every six months or it would automatically expire.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.