Skimpy parking snags bikini bar
Planners rescind approval for the Valrico bar, citing inadequate parking. The landowner's lawyer calls the decision unconstitutional.
By BILL VARIAN
Published October 29, 2005
TAMPA - A proposed bikini bar in Valrico survived protests and prayer vigils for months this summer and looked legally unstoppable until this week, when a county agency reversed itself and rejected it.
Hillsborough County planners have rescinded approval for the bikini bar, saying that upon further investigation, it lacks the proper amount of parking.
After taking some measurements, county workers found that parking spaces on the property are too small. And there's not enough space in the existing parking area to make them big enough to meet standards.
The proposed bar at 1602 E Brandon Blvd. has been the subject of protests from east county residents concerned about raunch descending on their suburban enclave.
A leader of an opposition group that formed to protest the bar's opening applauded the decision.
"It's a clear example of what happens when the county officials look at all the facts and also look at what's in the best interests of the community," said Terry Kemple, a board member of Community Action Summit. Kemple, who led protests outside the property every few weeks this summer, is also part of a group that had challenged the county's approval of the bikini bar by Gemini Property Ventures. Now it will be up to Gemini Property Ventures to challenge the county's decision.
Luke Lirot, attorney for Gemini Property Ventures and the property owner, said the decision is invalid because it has been 30 days since the county approved the plan. Either way, he said, this is clear proof that the county is taking extraordinary measures to kill the project because it doesn't like it, which is an act of censorship and discrimination.
"I imagine we will get a letter in a week or so saying we violate some provision of the Dead Sea Scrolls," Lirot said. "But from a constitutional law perspective, I think that this actually leaves no question that there's a huge conspiracy to do whatever it takes to harm the rights of the people who want to open this business."
The property has been a bar since at least 1966, according to research by the county's Planning and Growth Management Department. Since then, however, development rules that affect it have been toughened, increasing requirements for things such as parking.
The property owners sought, and received, permission to open a new bar under the old development rules through a grandfather provision.
This let them follow the old rules as long as they continued to use the property for essentially the same purpose as before. The fact that the new bar would feature servers in bikinis did not come into play.
That meant the bikini bar was required to have only 17 parking spaces, instead of nearly 60 that would be required today.
However, Paula Harvey, division director for the county Planning and Growth Management Department, said her office found a provision requiring that those parking spaces be at least 200 square feet each. They are not, and there's not enough space to make them that size.
Because the bar violates the old rules, planners said, it now must comply with the new ones. And while the owners are seeking to add additional paved parking on an unpaved part of the lot, they still can't meet the requirement without reconfiguring their plans, Harvey said.
"He can't open until he gets his required parking in there," Harvey said.
[Last modified October 29, 2005, 02:05:41]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]