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    Restaurant denied expansion plans

    Business owners near Frenchy's say already limited beach parking would become even more scarce.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 23, 2000


    CLEARWATER -- The city's quintessential beachfront seafood restaurant, Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, has been denied its request to add a second story after neighboring businesses complained there wasn't enough parking nearby to support it.

    Ed Armstrong, the attorney representing Frenchy's, said his client thinks the city's denial is unfair. He will appeal a Community Development Board decision to a state hearing officer and try to get it overturned.

    "I believe we made a compelling case that all the city's criteria were met," Armstrong said. "Frenchy is very determined. We're confident we'll prevail in the end."

    The restaurant's owners want to add 3,487 square feet to the 6,723-square-foot building, which would allow 124 more customers to eat and drink on a second-floor, mostly open-air area. That would increase the total seats at the Florida Cracker-style, brightly painted, wooden restaurant to 372.

    City staff members thought the expansion of the restaurant at 7 Rockaway St. off N Mandalay Avenue was reasonable, according to their review of the plans. Under the current code, the city said, Frenchy's needs a minimum of 71 parking spaces for its patrons, but they were willing to allow the restaurant to provide only 13 spaces and depend on public spots in the area for the rest of their needs.

    But neighboring business owners, such as Ken Hamilton, proprietor of the Palm Pavilion, showed up at Tuesday's board hearing to protest the plan.

    "I think we have a parking problem overall on the beach," Hamilton said. "And for us to be granting anybody with a large quantity of needed spaces something like this, until we solve the big picture, is not something that should go forward. It's a monstrous addition."

    Armstrong noted that Hamilton competes with Frenchy's for customers.

    But Hamilton said that did not affect his views.

    "This is a community thing," Hamilton said, related to parking on the beach. "This is about the people who just want to come out and watch the sunset, and couldn't care less about Frenchy's."

    The Clearwater Beach Hotel's owners also put a letter of objection on file with the city, stating they had decided the restaurant's land was just too small to support such a large addition.

    Originally, the beach hotel had given Armstrong a letter of no objection -- in exchange for guarantees such as that Frenchy's would play no outdoor music on its roof late at night, possibly disturbing hotel patrons.

    Armstrong had a study done to try to prove that parking would not be a problem under guidelines set by city planners and the city's existing code rules, he said.

    The study by Robert Pergolizzi, vice president of Florida Design Consultants, showed that there were an average of 45 public spaces typically unused and available for Frenchy's customers within 1,000 feet of the restaurant.

    The study was based on a survey of spaces around the restaurant taken one weekend in August on the hour from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

    Additionally, a survey of 100 restaurant patrons showed that about half of them had walked to the restaurant from the beach -- and not driven there, Pergolizzi said. City planners accepted the study's results.

    But Hamilton questioned the study on the basis that many people won't want to park at a city lot that is three football fields away from Frenchy's.

    And, he said, some people searching for parking won't know the distant lot exists, tucked away behind city tennis courts off Bay Esplanade.

    Instead, Hamilton predicted, the addition to Frenchy's could bring more congestion to the city lot adjacent to Frenchy's Rockaway Grill -- a lot that also serves his restaurant.

    After hearing the debate, the Community Development Board on Dec.12 denied the request for Frenchy's addition by deadlocking 3-3. It takes four votes from planning board members for approval of a project.

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