By John Morton
Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill is a step closer to having the opportunity to host live music as late as 2 a.m. if it chooses.
At the Dec. 1 meeting of the Sarasota County Planning Commission, the five members present all voted in favor of supporting owner Scott Smith’s request for a special exception that would allow live indoor and outdoor music to continue past the current cutoff time of 10 p.m.
“My customers will look at me at 10 p.m. and ask, ‘What are you doing? We were having a good time,” Smith said of his nightly necessity to shut down the music at 10 p.m. and switch to prerecorded music.
Next up is a final vote on the matter by the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners, which has yet to be scheduled.
“We’re trying to make our customers happy, and they are really unhappy when he have to pull the plug at 10 p.m. And the performers don’t like it either,” said attorney Casey Colburn at the meeting on behalf of Gilligan’s, located in the Siesta Village at 5253 Ocean Blvd.
Easing the minds of the planners was the operation’s willingness to drop its request for the special exception to include extended hours for live music in its back parking lot, which faces residential properties as close as 60 feet away. Across the street from the bar’s front are other similar establishments that already have permits for live music past 10 p.m.
Colburn said the bar would still adhere to the limits on noise, which varies on the Key in relation to type of business and time of day, but in this case would be capped at 75 decibels as a commercial property. Colburn noted that in the 20-plus years that Smith has owned the business, he’d never received a violation from code enforcement.
“There seems to be some confusion among the public,” Colburn said of letters and testimony of opposition. “This will not create more noise. It will not and cannot.”
Said commission member Kevin Cooper, who used to be part of the island’s chamber of commerce, “The nuisance is the noise if the music doesn’t maintain the right sound level. And the businesses across the street are doing the same thing.
“If Siesta Key is incorporated, this would be its downtown. The businesses have done a good job of policing themselves. They don’t want these things (permits) taken away.”
Added Colburn, “(Smith) is not going to be flippant about losing the investment in this.”
According to county staff, five establishments on the Key currently have special exceptions allowing them to have live music past 10 p.m. – three of which are in the Village. The business that is now The Hub Baja Grill, which features primarily acoustic music, received permission in 1992, while the Siesta Key Oyster Bar and Daiquiri Deck – both located directly across from Gilligan’s – got the same in 2001 while going through a process of being defined as a night club.
The nearby Beach Club also is allowed to have live music past 10 p.m. in what is primarily an enclosed area at night.
Four local residents opposed the application, while one spoke in favor. Mike Holderness, who co-owns the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites two doors down from Gilligan’s, said his guests are already bothered by the noise coming from Gilligan’s – especially when utilizing outdoor amenities like the swimming pool.
“More than ever, families and couples choose to rent for the family atmosphere and, more important, the private enjoyment,” he of island guests, adding that a “bad element” is what live music into the wee hours brings to an area.
“We don’t want the mayhem that spills out at 2 a.m.” he added.
Just a few months before Smith invested in the business in 2001, the previous owner was denied a request for the same, opponents reminded the commission. Smith finally gained full ownership in 2007.
During a June workshop on the matter at Siesta Key’s Out-of-Door Academy, opponents argued similar concerns. Both Holderness and Catherine Luckner, whose Siesta Key Association filed a letter in opposition, said they feel the commission didn’t receive a complete and/or accurate recap of the workshop and that Gilligan’s had subsequently altered its application. Both are planning to request another workshop before a final vote.
“The planning commission gave the thumbs up with no compatibility, no conceptual plan, based upon trial and error, and with no buffering to residential and transient accommodations,” Holderness said after the commission vote. “I do like Scott (Smith) and (general manager) Mike (Gatz), but they weren’t truthful,” adding he felt Todd Dary, the county’s Planning Services Division manager, “let everything slide through and omitted crucial facts.”
Said Luckner of the application at a Dec. 1 Siesta Key Association that occurred at the same time as the planning commission hearing, “I can’t believe it would be approved,” noting that the residential areas on nearby canals would suffer.
“Water just loves sound, and so do the breezes. I’m 21/2 miles away from the public beach and I can even hear the volleyball tournament speakers. There are places to go in the city where noise doesn’t bother people. It shouldn’t be here,” she said.