Apalachicola restaurants along Avenue D will be able to serve customer under tents in the street for at least another 30 days.
But they can scratch any hopes of offering live music.
Restaurateur Danny Itzkovitz, owner of Tamara’s Café, had ignited a firestorm when, after the city commission had granted his restaurant, and the Owl Café, the right to block off parking spaces and serve customers there under a tent, he had gone ahead and offered outdoor music at the site.
Mayor Kevin Begos opened the high-profile discussion at Tuesday afternoon’s meeting by chastising Itzkovitz for circumventing what he said was the clear intent of both the new ordinance, as well as that of one approved by the last administration that expanded dining on the sidewalks.
“We really didn’t have the full picture at the last meeting,” said Begos, referring to a meeting last month when Commissioner Adriane Elliott, a proponent of allowing outdoor music, had asked to revisit the enabling legislation.
He said the permit application by Tamara’s had included drawings, a list of tables and chairs, and the planter boxes that serve as traffic barriers. “There’s no stage listed,” said Begos. “Then out of the blue a stage was set. That stage was never permitted.
“I do believe that it is abundantly clear, and could not have been clearer that entertainment was prohibited” by the emergency ordnance, said the mayor. “Danny felt there was a loophole there. It became a little stage with musicians performing and little amplifiers.”
Begos noted an earlier ordinance that sets a threshold of no more than 65 decibels is not a factor, since Chief Bobby Varnes and his officers have not traditionally used that measurement for enforcement. they instead rely on polite requests to turn down the music when such instances come up.
The mayor chafed at what he said has been unfair treatment of Varnes and Officer Ginger Creamer, by putting them in the middle of this dispute.
“We have to be able to keep the sidewalk open for the public,” said Begos. “When you have a good performer, people come by and congregate and want to listen. We specifically said we didn’t feel that was appropriate.
“The city was not trying to ban outdoor music altogether,” he said. “The sidewalk is a different thing for permitting musical performance.
“Danny could have applied for a permit saying I’d like to put in a little stage. He never applied for that permit,” said Begos. “I regret that it’s gotten so controversial. I’m just baffled because we wanted to help those businesses. It’s become now supposedly this injustice we’re foisting.”
Elliott was the lone member of the commission to argue on behalf of permitting the music.
“We began this entire endeavor to allow safer conditions during the pandemic,” she said. “The only reason that stage appeared because it was not feasible to pack people at the time inside Tapas.
“Why are trying to ban musical performance outside?” she asked.
“It (the parking spaces) are not a private place just because you enter a lease agreement,” replied Begos. “I am still baffled by all the anger that’s here.”
Commissioners Brenda Ash, Anita Grove and Despina George acknowledged the challenging times we are living in, but none budged from their position that the terms of the existing emergency ordinance were being ignored.
“If we do that, we’re creating a bar avenue and we’re competing with all the bars that can’t open,” said Grove. “There’s a lot of people who don’t appreciate what’s going on downtown.
“I see this as an opportunity to totally redress what we have on the sidewalk,” she said, asking for a chance to review whether downtown businesses are adhering to 36-inch width requirement and other conditions.
“Now that they’re at 50 percent (allowed capacity), they can fulfill that (music) within their walls,” Grove added.
George preferred not to examine the entire sidewalk legislation that enabled outdoor dining, and asked that the specifics of the music matter be addressed.
“We specifically said this is not a place for social gathering and entertainment,” she said.
City Attorney Kristy Banks said that because the encroachment agreement does not allow for a stage either under the tent or on the sidewalk, the matter was moot.
In the end the commission unanimously extended for 30 days the emergency ordinance that granted the additional outdoor seating. They preferred not to allow it to be opened-ended until the state lifts all of its coronavirus restrictions, which Elliott initially asked that they do.