TARPON SPRINGS — Jack Willie's Tarpon Turtle Grill and Marina will be allowed to have outdoor dining and entertainment, but not as much seating as the owner wanted.
That was the compromise decision reached in the wee hours Wednesday by the Tarpon Springs City Commission to settle a lengthy dispute between the Lake Tarpon restaurant at 1513 Lake Tarpon Ave. and neighbors who have complained about noise and traffic.
It took a nearly four-hour discussion before commissioners, on a 4-1 vote, agreed to:
• Increase the seating to 177 based on the allowable 71 parking spaces. Owner Don Alvino had asked the commission to boost the seating from 150 to 213. Within seven days of the approval and at regular intervals, the fire marshal or his designee will verify that the Tarpon Turtle is complying with the 177-seat capacity.
• Allow outdoor seating and entertainment. The entertainment is limited to Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m. and Sundays until 9 p.m. No amplified sounds on the deck are allowed Monday through Thursday.
• Require the restaurant to upgrade its grease interceptor to accommodate the increase in seating capacity.
"At no point and time is anyone here against the Tarpon Turtle," said Mayor Beverley Billiris, addressing concerns from the crowd that the city didn't support the establishment. "We appreciate that it is a jewel in our community. That concept that's been thrown out tonight, I take exception to and I'm sure my colleagues do, too."
Commissioner Peter Dalacos was the lone dissenter. He proposed allowing 222 seats.
The commission had balked at Alvino's request for 213-seat capacity in part because of complaints from residents who say the Tarpon Turtle has become a nuisance since reopening in 2006 — and because there is not enough parking.
Neighbors complained about the on-street parking, loud motorcycles and the music on the deck.
Ed Mazur, who purchased a home about 150 feet north of the Tarpon Turtle, hired attorney Ed Armstrong to represent him.
"The commission made a reasonable decision," Armstrong said. "The test will be whether Mr. Alvino complies with the conditions that were imposed. Unfortunately, his track record in that regard is very poor. But time will tell."
In 2004, the City Commission approved the Tarpon Turtle's initial site plan that called for 150 seats and no outdoor seating. The restaurant opened in May 2006, but with 240 seats and some outdoor seating.
Since November, Alvino has been fined $250 a day for being out of compliance. The bill is now more than $44,000. Alvino has an opportunity to meet with the code enforcement board in an attempt to reduce the fine.
Alvino told the commission on Tuesday that if he was forced to reduce his seating, he would have to reduce his staff, which would result in folks losing jobs. He also asked commissioners to consider his 16 boat slips as parking. They declined the option.
The Tarpon Turtle acknowledged problems when it initially opened but said many have been addressed, including the recent installation of a state-of-the-art sound system on the deck that is controlled by the staff.
"Some people don't mind the entertainment," Alvino said. "I'm happy to talk to the folks and see what we can do to get them to help us."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174.