ST. PETE BEACH — Residents near the proposed new Caddy's St. Pete Beach appear to have won their nearly year-long fight to prevent open-air dining they feared would cause excessive noise echoing over the Intracoastal Waterway.
A group of residents have reached a settlement with Caddy's owners following a city administrative hearing, which came after hundreds of nearby condominium residents and homeowners protested the city's decision to issue a permit to the restaurant.
The next step, expected soon, is for the city to modify its permit.
The legal dispute began in March when Donald J. Schutz, a long-time resident and lawyer, filed an administrative appeal and a lawsuit in Pinellas County Circuit Court seeking to invalidate the permit.
The restaurant had tried to assuage residents' concerns, to no avail. City officials said the permit was lawful, but Schutz's legal actions prompted them to order that work be halted on renovations at the restaurant, the site of the former Silas Dent's Steakhouse at 5501 Gulf Blvd.
"A lot of hard work, dedication and efforts were expended on this project to protect our quality of life, safety and home values," said Ed Stapor, one of the residents who fought the restaurant's original plans. "Now we can go back to enjoying our neighborhood."
Wesley Wright, the city's community development director, said he received a new set of plans from Caddy's on Monday and expects to lift the stop-work order within days.
Marcus Winters, one of the Caddy's owners, said the restaurant should be able to open in three to four months.
"These residents are all my neighbors. We will be living next to each other for a long time," Winters said, adding that he is glad the dispute has been settled.
The lawsuit filed by Schutz has been dropped against Caddy's but continues against the shopping center owner, Bayside Shops LLC. Schutz wants an unpermitted dock at the rear of the restaurant to be removed to prevent patrons from arriving by boat.
"I really consider the settlement a win-win," Schutz said. "Caddy's was not the bad guy here. They were reasonable and cooperative and tried to be good corporate citizens who were just following city regulations in seeking their permit."
The original permit called for a single open-air window at the rear of the restaurant, as well as a door that would allow patrons to enter and exit the restaurant from boats tying up at the dock.
The settlement calls for the opening in the east wall at the rear of the restaurant to be replaced with fixed, non-opening windows. Overly large windows should be sound-absorbing and double-paned.
Originally, Caddy's owners envisioned patrons arriving by boat and entering the restaurant from the rear. Now, any doors at the rear of the building that would allow patrons to enter the restaurant from the dock may either be replaced with a fixed window or restricted so customers can only exit there, according to the settlement.
The only rear doors allowing people to enter the building are to be restricted to the kitchen area used by staff, and for deliveries and fire exits.
The restaurant will be the sixth Caddy's in the Tampa Bay area. The original is located on the Gulf of Mexico in Treasure Island and others are located in Gulfport, Indian Shores, downtown St. Petersburg and Bradenton. A seventh is planned for Madeira Beach.