TREASURE ISLAND — Sunshine Beach residents formally rejected a proposed beachfront restaurant at John's Pass on Monday, but the debate is far from over.
Project architect Jack Bodziak, representing property owner Rice Family Holdings, showed members of the Sunshine Beach Civic Association plans for the project that also will include massive redevelopment of the Rice-owned complex on the east side of Gulf Boulevard, as an updated tourist, family entertainment, marina complex and renovated Gators restaurant.
He plans to try again at 7 p.m. Tuesday during a special community meeting in the auditorium at City Hall, as well as at the next Planning and Zoning Board meeting at 2 p.m. April 21.
"I know some of you are not happy. We are trying to do the best job we can. We think what we are presenting is better than the alternatives are," Bodziak said.
The proposed Rock House Grille and Cabanas would be just off Sunshine Lane at the mouth of John's Pass on the Gulf of Mexico.
The property's zoning allows a 53-unit hotel, but a standalone restaurant or bar is a conditional use that requires a special exception to be approved by the Planning and Zoning Board.
"We are trying to do a well-planned project that doesn't crowd the site," said Bodziak.
Bodziak repeatedly assured residents that the project design would be adapted to meet "reasonable" concerns of residents.
Already, the site plan has changed to ensure traffic leaving the site could only turn south on Gulf Boulevard.
Some of the 450 parking spaces near Gators on the east side of the boulevard will be set aside for use by restaurant patrons.
Bodziak also said the building would be engineered to direct the sound of any music toward the gulf so nearby homeowners would not be disturbed.
If the Rock House special exception and site plan is approved by the city, Bodziak said demolition of older buildings on the sites would begin immediately after permits are issued.
Many of the more than 50 residents attending Monday's meeting said they would prefer a hotel to a beachfront bar they fear will attract the kinds of crowds that jam Sunset Beach at and around Caddy's on weekends.
Residents, particularly those living along Sunshine Lane just to the south of the project, were also concerned about traffic patterns and parking that could disrupt their neighborhoods.
Many residents left the two-plus hour meeting before the formal vote was taken. In that vote, 18 residents opposed the project while 12 were in favor.
But what most of the residents said they really prefer is for the 1-acre parcel not to be developed at all. "The new bridge has made that land almost worthless," said Joe Culbertson, who lives on Sunshine Lane near the proposed project. "The logical solution is to make it green space."
One resident's suggestion garnered considerable support — for the city to swap public right of way on the east side of Gulf Boulevard for the Rice family's Gulf side property, which would then be turned into a park.
"A public park would be the ultimate thing down there," said association president Ernie George.