By Rachel Brown Hackney
One of the new owners of the building that for years housed the Jo-To Japanese Restaurant in Siesta Village says it probably will take two to three months to decide on the best new tenant.
“We’re still in the looking process,“ Jim Syprett said in a June 13 telephone interview. Syprett and his business partner in other Village ventures — Jay Lancer — purchased the Jo-To parcel on May 1 for $1,350,000, according to the records of the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office.
Teshima Family Properties had owned the parcel since February 2001, those records note.
The restaurant building is adjacent to what is now The Sandal Factory at 5232 Ocean Blvd., which was home to the 7-Eleven store before Lancer and Syprett bought it in January 2016. They also own the parcels where the Daiquiri Deck, the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar, the Siesta Key Oyster Bar and Gidget’s Coastal Provisions stand — all on the same side of the street.
Because the Jo-To structure can be home to a new restaurant, under the guidelines of the Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) zoning, Syprett went on to say, “that’s the most beneficial use of the property.” Still, he said, it could end up housing a new retail shop.
In response to a request from Village architect Mark Smith — who is working on the project with Syprett and Lancer — Sarasota County Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson pointed out in an April 4 letter that the SKOD parking regulations for restaurants and bars were amended by an ordinance the County Commission approved on March 18, 2009. That regulation says that “buildings and uses lawfully existing as of July 1, 1987, may be modernized, altered or repaired without providing additional off-street parking or off-street loading facilities, providing there is no increase in floor area or change in use of existing floor area that would increase parking demands (i.e., more seating, change storage area to office or retail area, etc.)”
“I think it’s a great little spot there,” Smith said of the property when he spoke to the News Leader in a separate interview.
The first order of business, Syprett noted, was to put a new roof on the building. County staff issued a permit for that work on May 12, with A-1 American Roofing and Sheet Metal of Venice set to undertake the estimated $37,000 project, according to a county document.
Furthermore, Syprett said, “we had to get [the building] cleaned up enough to be able to determine the situation [from a structural standpoint].” Syprett and Lancer ran into a problem in late May when that initiative was underway: They were cited for demolition without a permit.
Syprett explained that county staff will not issue a demolition permit until the applicant has produced details regarding the proposed demolition. Moreover, he said, staff will not issue a permit for any new work “until you have plans for reconstruction.”
“We didn’t consider what we were doing as demolition,” he added, as they simply were trying to determine, for example whether three or four walls were made of concrete block (three, as it turned out).
The Code Enforcement Notice of Violation, dated May 23, refers to “unpermitted demolition of walls, plumbing, electrical [heating and air conditioning lines], and drywall.” A crew had been tearing out wall coverings, Syprett and pulling out the drop ceiling when a county employee came to inspect the roof work. That led to the issuance of the Notice of Violation, he said.
“Thank goodness we had gotten to the point where we could see what we wanted to see,” he noted, before the work had to cease. It is always interesting, Syprett said, “when you work on a project in the Village.”