Tarpon considers doggy-dining ordinance for restaurants

TARPON SPRINGS — Less than a month after lifting the gate to the hen house, city commissioners may now loosen the leash on man’s best friend.

Tarpon Springs’ elected leaders discussed following suit with unincorporated Pinellas County and a handful of other cities by allowing restaurant customers the ability to bring dogs to dinner. Commissioners waded into animal politics a bit last month when they voted to allow residents the right to keep backyard chickens.

“My point of putting this up for discussion ... is not so much that I want dogs at restaurants,” said Commissioner David Banther, who requested the topic be discussed at the Aug. 6 meeting, “but that I think it’s a creative idea that some of our surrounding neighbors have adopted to increase economic development for our restaurants.”

Nicholas Tabus, representing Mama’s Greek Cuisine, a Sponge Docks restaurant, repeated last week what he said during the public comment portion of a commission meeting in June. An ordinance would simply put Tarpon Springs businesses on even ground with certain surrounding areas, Tabus believes.

“It would fit inline with what neighboring cities have done,” Tabus said. “This is nothing crazy or out of the ordinary that Tarpon Springs would be doing.”

Pinellas County commissioners approved in April an ordinance permitting dogs at food and beverage service establishments within unincorporated area. Dunedin, Gulfport, Safety Harbor and St. Petersburg has passed similar ordinances.

Tarpon commissioners were mostly supportive of allow dogs in restaurants and told City Manager Mark LeCouris to move forward with drafting an ordinance to be heard for first reading, perhaps as soon as Aug. 20.

“If you look at some of the restaurant owners and managers that signed up for it, you definitely have some substantial establishments well-rooted within the community,” Commissioner Townsend Tarapani said, referencing a small petition Tabus supplied signed by businesspeople around town. “So if they want it I don’t see why we should prohibit them.”

The city commission would have to approve at two separate public hearings an ordinance allowing dogs in restaurants.

LeCouris said the ordinance would mirror much of what the county and other cities have on their books. In terms of covering regulations regarding sanitation and cleanliness, LeCouris added that those are primarily already set by the Florida Department of Health.

What the city does plan on doing is requiring restaurants interested in allowing doggy-dining to apply and pay for a permit. The likely permit rate was not disclosed, but LeCouris said it would likely be “mid-range” in comparison to other area charges. Unincorporated Pinellas County charges $215 for a permit and Dunedin charges $75.

Any ordinance would also only apply to outdoor dining areas at permitted locations. Those do not include sidewalk cafes, LeCouris said, because of the hazard that could create for other passersby.

Commissioner Jeff Larsen gave the most tepid response to the idea of doggy-dining last Tuesday. Though in favor of allowing individual restaurateurs the choice to opt in or not, he said owners should not just assume dogs are good for business.

“I’m in support of the idea of letting restaurants make that decision, but I would really urge our restaurant owners to proceed with caution,” he said. “You might gain a couple customers that really like dogs, but you might lose some customers as well.”

Commissioners, in response to Larsen’s concerns, asked LeCouris to include language in the upcoming ordinance that would prohibit restaurant employees from touching customers’ dogs and requires establishments to display signs related to the presence of dogs.