MADEIRA BEACH — Pressure from neighboring condo owners has killed a planned Mexican restaurant in the city's business district.
Robert Hindes had a storefront picked out on 150th Avenue for his Gringos Bar and Grille. It's zoned for a restaurant and has enough parking.
One of the city's primary business streets, 150th Avenue already has a restaurant and bar, marine-related businesses and retail strip stores. But it's also home to several major condominium complexes and backed on the south by a residential neighborhood.
Therein lies the problem.
In order to open his doors, Hindes needed the city's blessing on a pending liquor license.
"I thought it would be fairly simple,'' he said Thursday. "I really feel we were persecuted."
What he ran into at a City Commission meeting was a room full of angry, worried residents, many from Madeira Cove condos, who were adamantly opposed to the city granting Hindes a liquor license.
"This would be located at entrance to our driveway,'' said Larry Roelofs, president of the Madeira Cove Condo Association. "We don't need a bar right next to us. We do not need to have inebriated people right next door."
Roelofs even took offense with the planned restaurant's name, describing it as a "hostile and contemptuous term."
John Lipa, also an officer at the condo association, said a bar would cause traffic congestion and a safety hazard. "It would be a formula for disaster," he said.
Hindes' attorney called the comments from residents "literal venom" and argued the business was a restaurant, not a bar, and that it has all the appropriate zoning.
But after more than an hour of impassioned debate, the City Commission opted to require Hindes to provide a traffic impact study before it would rule.
That study would cost thousands of dollars, Hindes said — money he doesn't have.
He said he has already spent more than $7,000 in start-up costs for the location at 203 150th Ave.
Private meetings with condo owners and city officials since the commission's nondecision were unsuccessful in reversing any opinions on the liquor license.
"I was willing to work with them on the hours of operation and other issues, but we never got to that part," Hindes said.
Now he is looking for a new location, but is not sure he will find one in Madeira Beach.
And if he does find another location, he has no plans to change the name.
"I had a Facebook contest with a bunch of people coming up with names,'' he said. "I thought Gringos was hilarious."