By Chris Ann Allen
The end may be in sight. Or maybe a new beginning.
Attorney Casey Colburn, representing Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill, and David Pierce, assistant Sarasota County attorney, gave closing arguments Dec. 19 via Zoom before Special Magistrate Scott Steady to potentially close the issue of later live music at the popular Village restaurant located at 5253 Ocean Blvd.
Currently, according to Sarasota County ordinance, Gilligan’s must end live music at 10:00 p.m. unless there is a special exception. The venue stays open until 2am and is looking into possibly having shows that late.
After a failed attempt to mediate an agreement, Steady heard both arguments and will issue a recommendation to the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners by Jan. 12.
During the session, Steady emphasized that under state statute, his order is not final — merely a recommendation on whether the county’s initial decision not to extend live music hours at Gilligan’s was “unreasonably or unduly burdensome on the property,” and thus the matter should be overheard.
“It’s a recommendation,” Steady said. “It’s not binding.”
The special exception application was initially considered by the planning board on December 1, 2022, where it was unanimously approved by five of the nine planning commissioners present. According to Colburn, changes to the application that were not included in the report presented to planning commissioners were made between staff and Gilligan’s representatives, eliminating the use of the rear parking lot as part of the special exception application. Staff and members of the public were concerned about mitigating the sound emitted by the lot. This was explained by Colburn to the planning committee, who then approved the application with the conditions.
However, when the application went before the county commission on Jan. 31, changes to the staff report had not been completed and the parking lot was still included. Colburn said he was surprised but expects commissioners to still approve the special exception based on the planning commission’s recommendation. Instead, the commission rejected it 4-1 with Commissioner Mark Smith, a Siesta Key resident, casting the lone vote in favor. Then, toward the end of the meeting, a further motion to reconsider was defeated 3-2.
During the Dec. 19 session, Colburn questioned why the county was resisting correcting the “staff mistake,” and argued that included the public’s insistence on “quiet and peace” and the restaurant’s bad reputation under the previous owner, who sold the property to owner of Gilligan’s (doing business as Nocturnal Properties) in 2001.
“Could it be that the senior county staff, the BCC and the district attorney are just trying to show the candidate who’s boss?” Colburn said. “It sure feels that way. The record confirms it.
Colburn also disputed the county commissioners’ separate statements of denial, saying, “None of the commissioners cited any evidence that the site would be noisier or more intense with live human performers until 2 a.m. than it is currently with recorded music and video at these hours.
In closing, Colburn said the district attorney’s refusal to disclose the lies and misrepresentations contained in the staff report that led to the commission’s denial was unreasonable under state law and the rules of professional conduct.
Pierce led the county’s presentation, saying Nocturnal Properties’ application was “tone deaf.”
“We have a fundamental difference of opinion and perception of the way the public hearing was conducted on this matter,” he said.
Pearce said the application falls on deaf ears because it has a history of being denied a previous special exception application in 2001 for entertainment limited to an indoor stage until 1 a.m. The 2023 application asked for more intensive use, with live outdoor entertainment without time limits. He said that under state law, a property owner can be granted relief if the current order is “unreasonable or unfairly burdens the owner’s use of real property,” which is not the case in this case.
Pierce also said only three special exceptions for live entertainment have been granted in Siesta Key Village, and all were more than 20 years ago, on the west side of Ocean Boulevard, and each included mitigation measures.
In short, Pierce said Nocturnal Properties had the opportunity to clarify its mitigation efforts during the public hearing, that county staff “correctly represented” the concept plan submitted by the owner, and any alleged error was irrelevant given the commission’s vote 4-1. Additionally, the owner has not provided sufficient mitigation to justify a special exception and the current situation is not unreasonable or unduly burdensome to use.
In his rebuttal, Colburn went on to say that the past 20 years of operation have shown that the establishment’s current owner, Siesta Key resident Scott Smith, is following the rules, as evidenced by only one code violation during that time, and concluded the report’s errors the staff was at fault for the whole thing.
“That’s the genesis of this whole situation,” Colburn said. “If they had been corrected, or if the committee had been given a chance to weigh this and decide what to do about it, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”
“And I believe the county’s failure to do so was unreasonable.”