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City: Large restaurants to be banned on beach

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of March 22, 2012)

Vero Beach city planners, hoping to strike a balance between keeping the beachside business district just the way it is and revamping it altogether, have released a plan for a new “preservation district” that among other things would ban new restaurants the size of the Ocean Grill, Waldo’s or Mulligan’s.

The move would grandfather in all existing structures in the Ocean Drive and Cardinal Drive corridors, but would make fresh standards mandatory for new construction and for major renovations.

Local merchants and property owners are invited to share their views on the plan at the 1:30 p.m. April 5 Planning and Zoning Board meeting.

Vero Planning Director Tim McGarry said he wanted to make sure there could be some Oceanside Business District members present so the meeting will be held in the afternoon to hopefully accommodate schedules.

“One of the things I would want to hear from them is how they intend to build consensus,” said Keith Pelan, the Planning and Zoning Board chairman.

Pelan and McGarry emphasized that the buy-in of the local business owners is the key to successfully implementing a progressive redevelopment plan.

Business owners, shopkeepers, restaurateurs, property owners and landlords have been an integral part of the process for the seven years of planning that have led up to the consideration of an ordinance establishing the district.

The purpose of the proposed changes are to “encourage the responsible development and redevelopment” of the area. Specifically, the city wants to retain and even enhance the pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use nature of the oceanside business district by encouraging residential units and boutique hotels on the upper floors of buildings, with commercial uses on the ground floor.

Another stated intent of the ordinance is to “promote the health and social well-being of residents by encouraging physical activity and greater social interaction,” the ordinance states.

Planners also hope to preserve the unique, historic qualities of the business district and its small-town feel.

For example, if the draft ordinance on the table is approved, new restaurants will be limited in size to 6,000 square feet of floor space.

The previous draft of the ordinance set a 10,000-square-foot limit. Three restaurants – the Ocean Grill, Waldo’s and Mulligan’s – are larger than 6,000 square feet.  The restriction would most likely discourage out-of-town restaurants from opening a beachside branch.

Retail shops are already limited to 4,000 square feet of floor space and no changes are proposed. The size limit promotes the boutique and specialty shop offerings and prevents  large chain stores from gobbling up a block of floor space. Drive up or drive through facilities also would be prohibited.

The Ocean Drive, Cardinal Drive and Beachland Boulevard master plan was adopted in February 2007 and this ordinance would implement that plan, not in a sweeping way that would upset merchants and property owners, but in a way that offers incentives to businesses for conforming to the zoning and architectural regulations to be imposed should the measure be approved.

“The ordinance has been made mandatory for all properties within the overlay district. It has been crafted so that, unless a property undergoes substantial improvements or new construction, the site and building development and building standards of the underlying C-1A (commercial retail/office zoning) apply rather than those of the overlay district,” McGarry said. .

Developers planning to add a second or third story to a building to accommodate apartments, condominiums or hotel rooms would be granted a larger amount of space, relative to the size of their parcel, than can be built now, provided that the new ordinance restrictions for setback, frontage and architectural design are followed.

The draft ordinance addresses light fixtures, fencing, walls, windows, doors and entrance ways, ceiling heights, building heights, awnings, walkways, porches, balconies, yards, building materials, roofs, colors and landscaping. It would require landscaped buffer medians around residential buildings.

The new regulations would apply to businesses along Ocean and Cardinal drives from Beachland Boulevard south to Flamevine, plus those in Sexton Plaza area and along all the side streets – Azalea, Bougainvillea, Camelia, Dahlia and Flamevine – which connect the beach to Cardinal Drive.

One aspect of the oceanside business district the ordinance fails to address is any restrictions on signage.

McGarry said those issues will be taken up separately in a sign ordinance.