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Hotels, restaurants get permission to serve alcohol on Vero's beaches

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of July 24, 2014)

Enjoying a beer, a glass of wine, a mojito or a favorite fruity rum drink with lunch or dinner on the private beach property of hotels and restaurants will now be part of the leisure experience within the Vero city limits.

Proprietors of such establishments can apply for such a special permit for beach alcohol service from City Hall. The change came about after several oceanfront businesses petitioned City Hall to expand alcohol service on their own property to the mean high-tide line, from 11 a.m. to sunset and in conjunction with food service.

This does not mean patrons will be able to walk up and down the shore with a beer, but it does mean that seated customers in a lounge chair or at a table will be able to order alcoholic beverages while visiting their favorite hotel beach bar.

“We think that this should be in two steps. One, it would allow me to give a license to use the beach. The other is that we would come back and make code changes in order to really make it known that this was not arbitrary, but it would be at the discretion of the City Council obviously,” City Manager Jim O’Connor said.

“We think that this is an appropriate use, especially with the restrictions that are on there. We have the clean-up requirements and it would have to be served in conjunction with food so it would be no setting up of a bar on the beach itself,” O’Connor said. “The owners would be held responsible. As you know, the restaurants along the beach line are really high quality. We do not anticipate that there would be some fly-by-night that would go in there so we feel that it would be very restrictive but at the same time easy to enforce,” O’Connor said.

“I think it will help spur business and move us into the next stage in what we’re trying to do as a tourist destination,” he said.

Costa d’Este General Manager Ed Riley spoke at the council meeting, representing his hotel, Mulligan’s, Heaton’s Reef at the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa and Waldo’s at the Driftwood Inn. “Currently we believe all of us do a very good job of policing the beach, the cleanup, any alcohol and today we allow no coolers on the beach.”

“This whole thing is about protecting the family and the guest experience and we kind of started with that in mind and we built this petition around protecting a family day at the beach and I think if you do that, you’ll do it right,” Riley said.

“This isn’t about having a party on the beach. This is about having a family day on the beach, having our local residents and hotel guests having a seafood salad and a mojito or dad has a burger and a beer or something like that, rather than having to leave the beach and go up on the pool deck to have a mojito or a frozen daiquiri and have to go back down,” Riley said. “This is for any of our residents who can enjoy a nice day at the beach. They can come to any of our establishments and rent a lounge chair and have a day at the beach.”

Councilman Craig Fletcher, who opposed the extension of alcohol service to 2 a.m. in May, was the long Council dissenter.   “I strongly insist this is another foot in the door.  We did the two o’clock thing and now it’s on the beach. It’s going to go on and on.

“I kind-of share some of Craig’s concern here because all of a sudden this is the third alcohol-related item on our agenda and I don’t want Vero Beach to get this stigma that we’re just promoting this,” said Vice Mayor Jay Kramer.  But he ended up voting for the measure, terming the establishments on the beach “a class act.”

“There are a lot of class acts in Daytona, too,” Fletcher retorted.  “It’s beach city and you see drunks all over the beach. They have pretty much the same thing, hotels are only supposed to serve to their patrons but it doesn’t work.”

To get started, Planning Director Tim McGarry said businesses “need to file a Code Compliance Certification application which is the development approval for expansion of outdoor dining and services.  A beach services permit is issued based on the approved application. They will need to amend their alcoholic beverage license to expand their premises.  The City must approve the application for amending the license.”

The measure not only affects those businesses that petitioned the city, but “it will only be limited to hotels and food establishments abutting the beach, which could include other establishments.”

Permits will need to be renewed annually. No glass containers will be permitted for safety reasons and plastic straws will be prohibited to protect wildlife. Anyone who carries a drink off the hotel or restaurant private property could be warned or cited by police.

McGarry said the city could fine the owners if city staff has to clean up after customers drinking alcohol, and said O’Connor would have the power to rescind the permit if the privilege was abused or problems were reported.