Clerical error could prove costly for Crooked Thumb Brewery

Crooked Thumb Brewery opening in Safety Harbor in 2015, but the recent discovery of a clerical error by a city staff member has the future of the business in doubt.

Crooked Thumb Brewery opened in Safety Harbor in October 2015, but the recent discovery of a clerical error by a city staff member means the original ordinance that allowed the brewery to be built must be reheard, casting the future of the Tenth Avenue South business in doubt.

Ever since Crooked Thumb Brewery began brewing and selling beer in October 2015 from a remodeled auto body shop at 505 Tenth Avenue South, the business has been a big hit with residents, visitors, the craft brewing community, even Safety Harbor city officials.

But the discovery of clerical error—the city’s failure to properly advertise the first reading of the 2014 ordinance that allowed microbreweries to be built in the SC2 district—could spell trouble for Safety Harbor’s only microbrewery.

Chris Nichols, co-owner of Mastercraft Cabinetry across the street from Crooked Thumb, brought the issue to light during the City Commission meeting Monday night, and the snafu could have damaging ramifications for brewery owners Kip Kelly and Travis Kruger, who have been under fire recently for noise and traffic issues stemming from the escalating popularity of their establishment.

“I’ve been doing some digging and I found some evidence that there’s things that are not zoned properly in the City of Safety Harbor, legally,” Nichols said during the Audience to Be Heard portion of Monday’s meeting. “Basically, on Ordinance 2014-03, there was only one legal ad that went out.”

A screenshot of Chris Nichols from the Mar. 6, 2017 Safety Harbor City Commission meeting.

A screenshot of Chris Nichols taken from the Mar. 6, 2017 Safety Harbor City Commission meeting.

“This was passed in four meetings, two Planning and Zoning and two City Commissions, and again, there was only one public hearing on this matter, which makes that in violation of State Statute 166.041.”

Indeed, Section 3(a) of the statute states, “a proposed ordinance may be read by title, or in full, on at least 2 separate days and shall, at least 10 days prior to adoption, be noticed once in a newspaper of general circulation in the municipality. The notice of proposed enactment shall state the date, time, and place of the meeting”.

According to city officials, Nichols is correct; the City Commission’s first reading of the ordinance in March 2014 was not advertised in the local newspaper due to what is being called a clerical error and an honest mistake.

That mistake, however, must be legally corrected, meaning the ordinance must be re-announced, discussed, with public input, and voted on again.

“Staff and I discussed it, and we’ll be bringing forward the re-adoption of the ordinance,” City Attorney Alan Zimmet said when asked by Mayor Andy Steingold.

No time frame has been given for the readoption process.

When asked about the potential ramifications of the situation, Mayor Steingold said he didn’t believe the mistake would lead to the actual closure of the brewery, which in a short time has evolved into one of the most popular spots in town.

Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold.

Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold.

However, the issue is apparently being used as leverage for those who now claim the brewery should never have been allowed in the character district in the first place.

“The year I was gone, the City Commission approved microbreweries in the SC-2, and over the last three years I suggested it’d be nice to make it a special district without realizing the profound effect Crooked Thumb has had on the surrounding residential area,” Steingold told Safety Harbor Connect after Monday’s meeting.

“I began to get input on how they felt—no one said anything degrading about Crooked Thumb itself, everybody loves it,” he added.

“The problem is, Crooked Thumb is in the wrong area. There’s not enough parking, and the noise during outdoor events travels and disrupts the neighbors.”

The mayor, who was overseeing his final full meeting after deciding not to seek reelection in next Tuesday’s municipal election, finished by saying Crooked Thumb is “a great addition to Safety Harbor, it’s just in the wrong location.”

Chris Nichols outside his business, Mastercraft Cabinetry, located at 510 10th Ave. S. in Safety Harbor.

Chris Nichols outside his business, Mastercraft Cabinetry, located at 510 10th Ave. S. in Safety Harbor.

Nichols also praised the brewery and said he does not want it to close.

What he does want to see happen is the parking and noise problems addressed to the satisfaction of the surrounding neighbors.

“I don’t want the brewery to shut down or anyone to lose their jobs,” Nichols said when reached by phone on Thursday. “What I want to see happen is to get the citizens and residents around Crooked Thumb to say what they’d like to see happen, to give them a chance to speak out about it.”

“I think the brewery is in a good thing for Safety Harbor. Maybe it’s not in the ideal location due to parking issues, but there’s parking problems everywhere in downtown Safety Harbor.”

When contacted for comment, Kelly, who has sunk considerable money, time and effort into making the brewery fit in the community, was understandably upset with the turn of events.

Crooked Thumb Brewery co-founders Kip Kelly (l) and Travis Kruger (r) pose with Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold after receiving the Mayors Award of Excellence in January 2016.

Crooked Thumb Brewery co-founders Kip Kelly (l) and Travis Kruger (r) pose with Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold after receiving the Mayors Award of Excellence in January 2016.

“I actually heard about the apparent error last Friday-which was described to me by city staff as a simple clerical error made by the city,” Kelly said via email. “It was explained to me as a simple cure. However, as you know, we are nearing the climax of some hotly contested commissioner races, and I think the timing of this issue could have some political overtones. I can say that neither myself nor anyone affiliated with the brewery did anything untoward during the zoning approval conducted by the city in 2014. We opened our brewery with the best intentions, and we reasonably relied on the city’s zoning approval process in doing so.”

Regarding the comments that brewery is a good thing for the city, just in the wrong location, a sentiment recently echoed by mayoral candidate Janet Hooper, Kelly was disappointed.

“I have heard some city officials mention that they love Crooked Thumb, but that it’s in the wrong location,” he wrote.

“I will say that for anyone who really loves Crooked Thumb, they know that the success and magic of the brewery is precisely due to where it is located. Read any of our online reviews and you’ll see time and time again “great vibe”, “great atmosphere”, “cool place”.

“Yes, we have some parking challenges that we are continuing to solve, and will solve,” he continued.

Crooked Thumb Brewery has grown in popularity since opening its doors in October 2015.

Crooked Thumb Brewery has grown in popularity since opening its doors in October 2015.

“But what makes Crooked Thumb special in addition to its people, its beer and its amazing guests, is the experience people get while drinking our beer in our particular location. The success of the brewery is inextricably linked to its precise location and the “vibe’ that location creates for our guests…it’s not the kind of vibe that can be manufactured or recreated. Its genuine, Its authentic.”

Finally, when asked how he felt about potentially having to shutter the brewery’s garage doors should things not go his way during the ordinance readoption process, Kelly was definitive.

“If because of a clerical error we are forced to move or close our doors, it would be a huge loss to our community and a sad day for the many people who take pride in their hometown brewery.”

“I trust that our city’s leaders, whoever they may be after March 14, recognize we are innocent victims of a city clerical error, and I am hopeful they re-approve the zoning not only because of the tremendous good Crooked Thumb does for so many people in Safety Harbor, but also because it’s the right thing to do.”

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