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Grill to rise from ashes

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By Chris Van Ormer

 

Marguerita Grill will get to be a party place in the future.

In spite of issues raised by some of the popular Homosassa waterfront restaurant’s neighbors, the Citrus County Planning and Development Commission Board (PDC) on Thursday approved a multi-part variance request to construct another eatery.

“It served as a restaurant for 21 years, up until the celebrated fire in 2011,” said Inverness attorney Larry Haag, presenting the request to the PDC on behalf of the owner, Athanasios Pilouras/Neida Inc.

A dining and dancing destination well known for its American tributes on Friday and Saturday nights, having patrons wave American flags while singing patriotic songs, the restaurant was destroyed in an early morning fire on July 25, 2011. 

“People used to come from all over the county and out of town to partake of the revelry on Friday and Saturday nights,” Haag said. “It had a great economic benefit to the county, both employment-wise and also the applicant’s purchase of local seafood and baked goods.”

The new construction would be inside the former footprint, Haag said.

“Except for meeting handicapped requirements under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), and fire safety with a fire escape, it’s entirely within the footprint,” Haag said. “In fact, many of the (smaller) structures are being removed and will be one consolidated building. It is a significantly better design. It will be a great 

improvement to the neighborhood.”

However, next-door neighbor Mary Hanisch detailed some improvements to the plan she would like to see.

“I have no problem with Mr. Pilouras rebuilding the Marguerita Grill,” Hanisch said. “It’s just that it has a zero-feet to my side setback. I have issues with the noise from his restaurant.”

Hanisch said the noise vibrated her building, making it hard to sleep at night. But the greater issue was the lack of setback, as the new restaurant will have two stories, allowing restaurant patrons on the top floor to overlook Hanisch’s property.

Her third issue was parking, because restaurant patrons have been known to block the access to her property when the parking lot is full.

In reply, Haag assured the PDC that although the new building plan called for two stories, the restaurant capacity would not be twice as large because the construction would follow new codes for bathroom size and access, have a much larger kitchen, include a dance floor, and the top floor would not be as large in floor space as the ground floor. Therefore, parking would be adequate. Any patron parking on the road would be given a ticket, Haag said.

Haag said any nearby two-story structure could overlook Hanisch’s property, which he also said was highly visible to boaters on the river.

Board member Joe Chrietzberg asked Hanisch if the restaurant existed when she purchased her property, and she responded it had.

Speaking for the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, Carl Flanagan said, “We know in these economic times that it’s difficult out there in the marketplace and it’s critically important that we are able to put people back to work. I think that over the years Tommy (Pilouras) has demonstrated his willingness to give back to the community and be able to hire the employees and put them to work so that those folks can earn a decent living and live in a beautiful location.”

Board member Paul Wheeler recommended the applicant address the noise issues. However, noise was not an issue for the variance application and could not be made a condition for approval, according to county staff.

The board unanimously approved the application with four conditions. The site will be constructed as outlined. The applicant will provide a guttering system on the building to convey stormwater runoff to a controlled area. The applicant will amend right of way uses for the new parking configuration. Within 21 days after the first floor is built, another survey must be filed to show it complies with approved setbacks.

* The PDC recommended a zoning change to the Citrus County Board of County Commissioners for nearly 14 acres of property in Pine Ridge originally designated for a school site to become residential.

Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer can be reached at cvanormer@chronicleonline.com or 352-564-2916.