A restaurant and brewery proposed for the now-vacant Waterfront Market building at Key West Bight is one step closer to serving its first pint of beer.
The city's Planning Board on May 31 unanimously approved a major development plan for the proposed Waterfront Brewery, which features a restaurant, pub, brewery tours, retail space and an open-air rooftop cafe.
Board members Jim Gilleran and Michael Browning were absent, and board member Greg Oropeza recused himself from the discussion and vote, saying that he will have a standing recusal with regard to the project due to a conflict of interest.
The rooftop cafe, and noise emanating from it, had been the major source of concern and opposition from neighbors in the area. The Planning Board in April had directed the applicants and would-be brewery owners Chris Shultz and Todd Manuel to continue to meet with the neighbors and determine what conditions would satisfy the noise concerns.
As a result of those meetings, the city's Planning Department staff recommended the board approve the development plan, but included 11 conditions under which the business must operate in order to comply with its approval. Planner Nicole Malo on May 31 outlined the 11 conditions, most of which were included to address concerns about noise coming from the second-floor rooftop restaurant late at night.
Shultz and Manuel agreed to the conditions, which limit the hours of operation of the rooftop area from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The conditions also require the owners to install a "distributive sound system" to ensure the noise does not surpass the allowed decibel levels outlined in the city's noise ordinance. The businessmen also agreed to special outdoor lighting on the rooftop that is not disruptive to surrounding properties, and they will not connect any of the televisions planned for the rooftop area to a sound system that amplifies their volume, according to the conditions of the development plan.
During the May 31 meeting, board members heard from Key West residents who both supported and opposed the project.
Doug Bennett told the board that he represented the 195 people who signed a petition circulated by the Key West Bight Neighborhood Association that urged the Planning Board to prohibit all amplified noise on the rooftop restaurant.
"None of us is against a restaurant. We're just against amplified music on the rooftop," Bennett said, pointing out that other neighboring bars with amplified music are at ground level, where sound apparently does not carry as far.
Chairman Richard Klitenick asked Bennett to clarify the group he represented, wondering if all 195 signers were members of the neighborhood association.
"No, the association meetings I've attended are usually 12 to 15 people," Bennett said.
Others spoke in support of the brewery, including restaurateur Joe Walsh, who also is Shultz's landlord at the Porter Mansion, where Shultz owns The Porch wine and beer bar.
"There is a significant capital investment the applicant is proposing to put into a city property," Walsh said. "I urge you not to strangle this project with conditions. The applicant has already made more concessions than any similar project I've seen in this town and I urge you to approve this with the conditions laid out by the planning staff."
That's what the board did, in spite of significant opposition from developer Pritam Singh, who is currently in negotiations to build a hotel in the now-vacant lot that was slated to become luxury condominiums called Harbor House.
Singh, immediately before the Planning Board meeting, submitted his own suggested conditions for approval of the brewery's development plan. Those suggestions asked that the entire business, inside and outside, be forced to close at 10 p.m.
Singh and his attorney, Bart Smith, said other restaurants in the area close at 10 p.m., and he made the distinction that, "We'd love to see a restaurant in that space, but not a bar."
"If it's a restaurant, it should close at 10 p.m.," Singh said repeatedly.
Urban land-use planner Owen Trepanier, who represents Shultz and Manuel, told the Planning Board that no other waterfront restaurant is forced to close at 10 p.m., but rather restaurants stop serving food when people stop ordering it.
"We can't live with the restrictions on the indoor hours," Trepanier said in response to Singh's suggested conditions.
"We agreed to the exterior conditions; that's been the concern that would impact the neighborhood. The noise from the outdoor space is why we're here."
Shultz breathed a sigh of relief in Old City Hall when the board passed the development plan with the staff's conditions. The next step will be lease negotiations with the city for the waterfront property.