OZONA — Most of the restaurants in this laid-back waterfront community at the west end of Tampa Road have a harmonious relationship with their residential neighbors. But some residents call their experience with J.C. Craver's Bar and Grill "a never-ending war.''
When the 4-year-old restaurant on the south end of Orange Street has live music, residents say, the neighborhood of stilt homes, townhomes and condominiums is bombarded by noise and traffic.
According to Ozona resident Ken Donald, music can be heard late into the evening. And many patrons carelessly drive over lawns and discard litter as they make their exit, he said.
"You know, restaurants were there before J.C. Craver's, and they operated just like that — a restaurant,'' said Donald, 50. "With J.C. Craver's, when they have live music, my home seems to be their giant tuning fork. If it was just the music, I'd say we should get over it and deal with it, but it's really offensive what they do to the neighborhood.''
Within the last two years, neighbors have called the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office with complaints about J.C. Craver's more than a dozen times.
Most calls were about loud music. However, according to incident reports filed by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, each time the sound was measured at the business, it did not exceed the 55 decibels allowed.
A community meeting held late last month was attended by Pinellas County staff, County Commissioner Susan Latvala, Pinellas sheriff's Deputy David DeAngelo and Brian Smith, president of the Ozona Village Improvement Society.
The new owner of J.C. Craver's, Nigel Foster, also was there.
Much of the discussion centered around traffic during J.C. Craver's live music nights and other special programs, according to Smith.
"The late-night noise and parking problems triggered this issue,'' Smith said. "The meeting showed that there's a need for the county to look at the parking situation in the area, in particular for special events.''
The property, a stone's throw from the Pinellas Trail, is zoned C-2, which means the business can legally operate as a restaurant, retail store or nightclub.
"A lot of what is happening has to do with growth,'' said Todd Myers, code enforcement division director for Pinellas County. "When restaurants and businesses first came into the area, there weren't as many houses and residents around there."
J.C. Craver's was first owned by Vince and Kelly Lamattina. In January it was purchased by Lisa and Nigel Foster. The Fosters were told by employees early on that there were some disgruntled neighbors, according to Nigel Foster, 46.
"But I had no idea how deep their frustrations went until the meeting," he said.
"I'm doing my best to be a good neighbor. I agreed that the music stops at midnight. I've also agreed to things like not throwing away beer bottles (making noise in the garbage bin) outside after 10 p.m.
"And if you ask them, I'd say 90 percent of Ozona is in full support of us," he added. "It's just a few who have some ambiguous complaints.''
When asked if the recent change in ownership improved things, Donald said that after meeting Foster, he believes "… there still might be an opportunity for us to work together. He seemed like a nice man. But I am hoping to see evidence that Mr. Foster cares as much as I do on what living life on Orange Street is like.''
Bill Honey lives just a few blocks south of J.C. Craver's.
"They don't bother me,'' said Honey, 78. "That building was permitted. They meet all the standards, but they absolutely have got to make sure the trash their customers make is cleaned up. But, you want a business to succeed, and when it does well, it creates noise and crowds.''
Over the years, the location has operated as Mango Millie's, the Beach Tree and Steve's Cape Cod. When the Lamattinas first opened J.C. Craver's in 2009, they named the business after the original settler of Palm Harbor.
It became known throughout Tampa Bay for well-known acts including blues guitarists Damon Fowler and Sean Chambers and the Black Honkeys, a funk and soul band.
"It's when they have bands like the Black Honkeys that we see the biggest problem,'' Donald said. "There's 300 people in a place with only 34 parking places."
How do other restaurants on Orange Street, such as Molly Goodheads, avoid issues with the neighbors?
"We don't have a parking problem because we purchased land for our parking lot years ago,'' said Lynn Sans, manager of Molly Goodheads.
Mark Warren is the manager at popular Skipper's Smokehouse in Tampa. A musician whose band played at J.C. Craver's in 2010, Warren knows the challenges of operating an eatery with live music.
"Oh, yes, we know disgruntled neighbors,'' he said. "When (Skipper's) first opened, we were out in the middle of nowhere, and now there's houses all over. It's difficult for everyone to adjust.
"What you try to do is train your clientele," he advised. "You need to tell them that as they leave, they don't need to howl at the moon or anything like that.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.