PORT RICHEY — In an effort to clear the way for a proposed waterfront dining and recreation business along the city's waterfront, the City Council has eased parking and boating restrictions in a special district north of the Pithlachascotee River.
The council unanimously approved an ordinance this week that alters its Waterfront Overlay District, a 19.74-acre swath north of the river, west of U.S. 19 and south of Waterfront Park. The changes allow for more parking, as well as allowing pontoon and johnboat rentals.
The city created the district in 2002 to steer development there toward uses consistent with the waterfront, including professional office, neighborhood scale retail, restaurants, hotels or motels, and recreational aquatic activities such as fishing charter and nonmotorized watercraft rentals.
Under the previous rules, businesses in the district were limited to four parking spots per 1,000 square feet of retail space. Those parking spot limits were created years ago, when the city planned to build a parking garage near U.S. 19 and Grand Boulevard to serve much of the development in the district.
The city never built the parking garage, but the parking limits remained in place.
So when local businessman Erik Suojanen looked to build a business called Gill Dawg — on 3.5 acres at 5419 Treadway Drive, in the heart of the district, adjacent to Seaside Inn and Hooters restaurants – he found the rules would only allow him four parking spots.
Not enough, he said, for his plans to build a restaurant and a tiki bar, a coffee and ice cream shop, a retail store and a business offering rentals of kayaks, pontoon boats and johnboats. He also wants to build a 1,200-foot lighted boardwalk and several docks giving him 35 wet slips, which he hopes to rent to boaters and allow for vessels to dock and visit the destination.
When Suojanen pitched his plan in November, pleading for help with the parking restrictions and other district constraints, he found a receptive council.
On Tuesday evening, the council voted to ease the district restrictions to allow pontoon and johnboat rentals. And now business owners in the district can have the number of parking spaces allowed by the zoning of their property.
So in Suojanen's case, his property is zoned commercial, meaning he would be allowed the 40 parking spaces he was looking for, according to City Manager Tom O'Neill.
The council did not move entirely away from the vision of a public parking plan, however. Vice Mayor Bill Colombo pushed for a caveat in the new ordinance that mandates the district parking restrictions be reinstated if a publicly-owned parking opportunity arises. The council adopted that idea.
Getting more parking cleared a big hurdle for Suojanen, who thanked the council Tuesday for working with him. O'Neill said his site plan could be completed by the end of next week.
"It sounds like what's being proposed is an excellent idea. I think it's the right fit for the waterfront district," O'Neill told the Times. "And it's the kind of business we want to encourage in the city."