Dog-friendly dining now allowed in unincorporated Martin County

STUART, Fla. - Dog owners who want to dine al fresco at a restaurant with their pets may soon have that option if any establishments in the unincorporated areas of Martin County want to welcome them.

County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday evening to adopt an ordinance setting regulations for restaurants that choose to allow diners to bring their dogs to outdoor dining areas.

Commissioners, who frequently split 3-2 on votes regarding land development regulations, started discussing the proposed ordinance in the morning and asked staff to refine the measure during the day to set the stage for the evening vote.

"That's an example of where we sort of worked together, had staff make a change, and we were able to come up with the unanimous decision, which is ideally the goal," said Commission Chairman Ed Ciampi.

The dogs would not be allowed inside a restaurant and a variety of sanitary measures would be required, county records show. The restaurants would have to apply to the county for an annual permit, which would be renewable, but not transferable to new owners if the dog-friendly eatery is sold.

The commissioners debated how to respond to violations of the new rules and ultimately decided to authorize county Growth Management Director Nicki van Vonno to determine whether a permit should be revoked.

"I would afford that position some flexibility there," Ciampi said. "It might be two times, but they happen to be egregious. It might be a pattern of some more minor details."

Commissioner Ed Fielding suggested that a restaurant's dog-friendly dining permit be revoked after two violations, but Commissioner Sarah Heard argued it should be revoked after one violation.

Any complaints and the county's responses must also be reported to the state Division of Hotels and Restaurants, county records show.

Fielding said he was concerned about the possibility of a toddler being bitten in the face by a large dog at a restaurant before an adult could get between them.

"That's life-changing," Fielding said.

Martin County's ordinance was based on regulations approved by the Stuart City Commission in October 2010. City Manager Paul Nicoletti has said the initiative has been popular.

The commissioners undertook the initiative at the request of the owners of Charlie's Neighborhood Bar & Grill on Kanner Highway, just outside Stuart's boundary.

Ciampi said he plans to continue leaving his family's dog home when dining out.

"I would choose not necessarily to eat at a restaurant where dogs were going to be sitting at the table right next to me," Ciampi said. "If I want a dog interrupting my meal, I've had that at home. So I don't necessarily need to go out looking for that."

DOG DINING RULES

Martin County's new rules allowing dogs in the outdoor areas of restaurants include the following requirements, among others:

Restaurants must receive a permit from the county before patrons' dogs are allowed on premises.

Employees shall wash or sanitize their hands promptly after touching, petting or handling any dog.

Signs will advise dog owners to sanitize their hands before eating.

Waterless hand sanitizer shall be provided at all tables in the area of the restaurant where dogs are allowed.

Patrons shall not leave their dogs unattended and shall keep them on a leash and under control.

Dogs may not come into contact with serving dishes, utensils, tableware, linens, paper products or any other item involved with food service.

Employees shall clean and sanitize all table and chair surfaces with an approved product between seating of patrons.

All dog waste shall be removed immediately and the floor shall be immediately cleaned and sanitized.

Complaints may be made in writing to the county growth management director, who will report them to the state Division of Hotels and Restaurants.

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