SAFETY HARBOR — When the City Commission recently approved plans for a local bar to build a Margaritaville-themed deck on city property, the proposal prompted little discussion.
But commissioners backed off on the deal during Monday's meeting after several resident complaints.
Residents warned that neighbors who live near Harbor Bar at 844 Main St. would face noise and television lights constantly flickering into their windows. They also expressed concerns about parking, bathrooms and whether it's fair to supply one business with free land and not another.
"I think it's a very bad idea. Apparently, the land belongs to Safety Harbor and it's public use," said resident Dale Tindall, naming other businesses adjacent to city property that might also want to expand. "Once you open up a can of worms, you have to deal with it."
Under the proposal, Harbor Bar would spend an estimated $25,000 on building a shaded wooden deck with a mini-bar, six tables and a television.
The deck would be public space where residents and city workers could bring lunch. But at 3 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. on weekends, Harbor Bar, which sells beer and liquor but no food, would be geared toward paying customers.
Harbor Bar manager John Zemzicki said he would allow the public to use the deck during designated bar hours, although he may ask someone to buy a soda or share a table if it's busy.
Elected officials unanimously approved the agreement in March.
But Commissioner Richard Blake later revived the issue, saying he had second thoughts about the city tying up the public land. At Blake's urging, commissioners directed City Manager Matt Spoor to see if the Harbor Bar would agree to a shorter deal than the originally proposed 10 years.
Residents who protested said they were unaware of the agreement until the Tampa Bay Times published a story.
Zemzicki said he would keep noise low and face the television away from neighbors so lights don't bother anyone. He also told commissioners he's willing to scale back the hours the deck would be designated for bar use.
But commissioners didn't seem convinced.
Blake and Commissioner Nina Bandoni suggested Harbor Bar scrap the current agreement, which hasn't been signed, and allow the bar to lease the land if it wants to expand.
Zemzicki said he would be open to a lease if it makes good business sense, and Spoor said city staff would draft a lease agreement for all to consider.
Under a lease, the non-paying public might not have access to the deck. But Bandoni was skeptical families would use the deck space anyway.
"I liked the idea of there being a deck there, but I also wanted it to be available to the residents when they wanted to use it," she said. "When I think about the reality of a resident that doesn't drink bringing their family to hang out, that's not really what this is. In fact, I think that would be uncomfortable."
Mayor Joe Ayoub said he originally thought the deck was a good idea, but the complaints left him torn.
"I like supporting downtown businesses and I like to see downtown revitalized," he said. "But I'm also sympathetic for the residents that are speaking out."
Zemzicki said the deck atmosphere would be family friendly.
"We're talking picnic tables, we're not talking live bands and rap music outside," Zemzicki said. "It wouldn't be the same as the bar inside. It would have a different feel and a different look to it."
Contact Brittany Alana Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 323-0353.