■ BY MARCY SHORTUSE
Last Friday, Aug. 8, Lee County Code Enforcement began an earnest attempt to clean up some of the complaints about businesses that were left lingering on the books in the Boca Grande Historic District. So far, all complaints have been closed – with the exception of one against The Loose Caboose and one against The Pink Pony.
As of Friday, Aug. 9, complaints against Seale Family Realty/Boca Grande Cart Rentals, The Barnichol, Boca Grande Real Estate, Fugate’s, Gulf Coast International Properties, Aqua and The Boca Beacon/Gasparilla Outfitters have all been declared closed and unfounded.
However, a new complaint was also lodged that day against the Pink Pony, regarding “signs covering windows.” This complaint goes along with past complaints alleging violation of “maximum seating regulations,” “location of outdoor seating not in approved area,” “a window for food service created and not allowed, and hours of operation had been exceeded.”
The signage the complaint referred to was the pink pony painted on the window. According to Lee County, that complaint has been closed, and the horse will be allowed to stay.
All other complaints against that business have been closed at this time, with the exception of one that had to do with the take-out window that was put in the side of the building facing the alley.
Seating in the Pink Pony courtyard may be back one day, as the owners of the business are working with the County to be able to allow it.
“The business has a special exemption to the zoning regulation for a specific area in the courtyard for seating,” said Lee County Public Information Coordinator Betsy Clayton. “An anonymous complaint came in that there were chairs outside of the designated special-exemption area. So code enforcement responded, and the business removed the seating there. It’s my understanding they will be seeking an amendment to their special exemption so it can be modified to include a larger area in the courtyard. If granted, then there could be an expanded seating area in the courtyard.”
When asked why, after more than three decades, the seats in front of the business windows were taken out, Clayton said it had probably just been overlooked for all that time.
“Code Enforcement is obligated to respond to reported complaints,” Clayton said. “So apparently there were not many complaints over the past decade(s) or so about the bench seat under the window in the right-of-way. But recently, anonymous complaints came in.”
She was, however, interested to know how long the seats had been there and was going to see if there was any possibility of “grandfathering” the seats in.
(We aren’t holding our breath)
According to Code Enforcement Officer Paul Smith, the complaint against The Loose Caboose,433 4th St. W. for “expanded outdoor and indoor seating/excessive/blocking public walkways” is still under investigation.
Clayton confirmed that, and said, “Code Enforcement is still doing research on the allowed number of tables and chairs there.”
Smith also said the case at The Inn Bakery is closed. That means outdoor seating at that location on E. Railroad Avenue is not going to happen any time soon.
“They removed their outdoor seating,” Smith said. “It won’t be back unless they can get it approved, maybe with a parking variance or special exception. They don’t have any parking, so to expand their seating they need parking … and they don’t have any.”
Meanwhile, you can check all Gasparilla Island code violations yourself by going to accelaaca.leegov.com/aca/, going to “code enforcement” and clicking on subsection “search applications.” From there go to the bottom of the form and type in our zip code, 33921.
Clayton explained the process Code Enforcement has to go through every time an anonymous complaint comes in. The majority of complaints are not emailed or phoned in, but are sent through a computer-generated response sheet on their website. No name has to be given on that form.
“Sometimes when a complaint is received, it doesn’t convert into a violation,” Clayton explained. “Code (Enforcement) determines that after a site visit. So a complaint may show up on that landing page but may ultimately not show up as a violation online.
“There seems to be a plethora of anonymous complaints arriving each week from someone in Boca Grande about various businesses. So Code must check them out.”