A Fort Myers Beach restaurant has been granted a right that will reflect its name in a more actual light.
Nemo's on the Beach at 1154 Estero Blvd. has become the first Estero Island business to officially serve alcohol on the beach since the Beach Council approved an ordinance back in September 2012. The ordinance amends a chapter of the Town's Land Development Code to allow the addition of revised regulations for consumption on-premises. The permitted use extends into the Environmentally Critical Zoning District, the sandy beach that runs from the rear of a beachfront building towards the Gulf.
Nemo's, which was one of the first establishments to apply, began the application process back on Oct. 10, 2012. It included channels and actions such as going through the COP administrative process at Town Hall, Florida Department of Environmental Protection approval, a Town building permit to construct ropes and posts, the construction and inspection of the ropes and posts, a liquor license signoff from Alcohol Beverage & Tobacco and more inspections by ABT.
Nemo’s on the Beach is now legally able to serve alcohol along with food in a zoned area on the beachfront adjacent to their restaurant.
Officials at Nemo's will now be allowed to expand their sales and service of alcohol onto the sand in an established area of the property's beachfront.
"It feels great. It has been a long process because we had to go through certain procedures. But, we were very in tuned in with what we needed to do, and we took care of it," said Gary Ciniello, the food and beverage director at Nemo's.
ABT was the "final hurdle" when those officials completed a final inspection on Thursday, March 14. Nemo's, Beach Chamber and Town officials celebrated the occasion last Wednesday with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The established perimeter for Nemo's beachfront service area is 1,560 square feet and extends 50 feet from the eatery's building. Ropes and posts mark it off.
"It's been very popular," said Patrick Ciniello, property owner and president of Estero Beach Holdings, LLC. "We've come a long, long way since this place was the Barking Shark and just had a beer and wine license. Now, we have a full liquor license and are able to serve on the beach. This is definitely a dream come true for us and (soon) other establishments to be able to provide customers with the ability to sit in the sand with a drink and food."
Since 2009, Council members have conducted numerous workshops on the matter, assembled a task force to look into particulars, held three hearings over 14 months on the matter and listened to hours of public input before settling on conditions to address many community concerns. The revisions include: 1) establishing side setback standards for area of service; 2) establishing maximum area standards; 3) adding authoritative ability to require special exceptions; 4) prohibiting the dispensing of alcohol in glass or aluminum containers; 5) establishing signage requirement for area of service; and 6) establishing no additional COP outside the downtown zoning district.
It is the responsibility of the business to police the expanded area and keep a patron from stepping out of the designated boundary. The sheriff's department holds responsibility to regulate beyond that scope.
"Our servers are definitely trained on all the procedures that they have to follow," said Gary Ciniello.
Council members limited the hours of service and consumption for the area of a licensed area from 11 a.m. to one hour after sunset or 9 p.m. (whichever comes first) to comply with sea turtle protection requirements contained in Chapter 14 of the Land Development Code. No live entertainment is allowed in the approved sand area.
The COP issue received a lot of public scrutiny since it was brought up nearly five years ago. Community Development Director Walter Fluegel has been working on the ordinance and land use issues since he was hired roughly 2-1/2 years ago.
"Nemo's worked pretty diligently through the process and stayed on task with some of the harder survey requirements, like determining where the mean high water mark was and getting all the site geometry done," said Fluegel. "For something that looks fairly simple, working out the site geometry from a surveying perspective was fairly complex with the dynamics of a moving water line and having to find this historic 19-year average of mean high water, so that we could insure there was always sufficient passage for the public."
The first beach establishment to be awarded COP has set precedence for others to follow. Gulf Shore Grill, Wicked Wings, Beach Pierside Grill, Junkanoo's on the Beach and DiamondHead Beach Resort (Cabana's) have all received their administrative approvals and are going through the latter processes to be next in line.
"Nemo's has done some nice work here, and it follows all the rules," said Beach Chamber President Bud Nocera. "With the COP approval, the Town has added responsibility and order. Overall, it is going to be a great thing for businesses, especially for this entertainment district."
Both Ciniello cousins are happy with the Town's work in establishing domains that will also help regulate other beachfront activities that include alcohol, coolers and public drunkenness.
"The Town has been fantastic. I want to really give credit to Walter for working on this and bringing it forward," said Patrick.
"We received some great assistance from the Town Council and ABT," Gary said. "We were just looking for a level playing field. Our customers love the aspect that they are able to have a beverage on the beach as well as food. We are doing it basically for their benefit."
COP timeframe and exceptions
The approved COP expansion applies to 18 beachfront establishments -all of which can make application for the usage within a six-month time frame. No establishments can receive administrative approval for COP expansion anymore (March 4, 2013 was deadline). Special exception -a long, detailed and somewhat expensive process- may now be an avenue for such application.
The Lani Kai Beach Resort is the only one of the 18 validated with pre-existing use, according to Town records. The Beach Pub is currently in a mode of "existing nonconforming" business, meaning the use of its property where the zoning ordinance is applicable does not conform to the provisions of the ordinance. That business location has been able to serve alcohol in the sand through a special exception it acquired while under the business name Tiki Klub just before the Town incorporated in late 1995.