New rules for doggy dining would affect all Wellington restaurants with outdoor seating

This rendering shows the planned Lazy Dog Restaurant, slated to open in the new Lotis development on State Road 7 in Wellington. [Village of Wellington]

New rules that would allow dogs to dine next to their owners in outdoor seating areas of Wellington restaurants would add approval steps for some restaurants that already welcome pooches to their patios — even though pups are not permitted there.

Wellington’s Village Council at the April 11 meeting voted 3-1 — with Councilman Michael Drahos dissenting and Councilwoman Tanya Siskind absent — to grant initial approval of a change to Wellington’s zoning that would allow dogs within designated outdoor dining areas, with the approval of a special use permit. The council will make its second and final vote on the issue at the May 9 meeting.

With the final approval in May, any Wellington restaurant that wants to allow dogs in outdoor areas will need to apply for a special use permit. Right now, under state rules, only service animals are allowed in those areas.

The change was requested by Lazy Dog Restaurant and Bar, which is set to open in the new Lotis development that is being built just north of Wellington Regional Medical Center on the west side of State Road 7.

In addition to a menu packed with options for humans, the restaurant chain offers a doggy dining menu that includes a grilled hamburger patty or a grilled chicken breast, each served with brown rice and vegetables. Each Lazy Dog has an outdoor patio area where dogs can eat alongside their owners, with rules in place that require canines and their owners to be on their best behavior. The rules also state that dogs must only eat or drink from containers designated for their use, and dogs must be leashed at all times.

“Many patrons really enjoy bringing their dogs to the restaurant patio,” said Jared Taylor, Lazy Dog’s agent for the project.

The hitch: The state currently does not allow dogs — except for service animals — in restaurants, either inside or outside, unless the local governing body approves an exemption, said Damian Newell, senior planner in Wellington’s Planning, Zoning and Building Department.

The changes initially approved earlier this month by the council would provide that exemption to all restaurants within Wellington that have approved outdoor seating areas and obtain a special use permit.

Wellington can and is setting its own local requirements for dog-friendly seating areas, including specific rules for some sort of barrier around the area, dog waste stations and single-use disposable containers for any food served to dogs.

What’s new there? The permit requirement. Even though only service dogs are technically allowed in restaurants right now — whether indoor or outdoor — some Wellington restaurants already welcome well-behaved furry friends for outdoor dining.

Taylor said he has been through this process before with other jurisdictions in Florida, including Palm Beach County, which had to approve a similar ordinance for unincorporated areas when Lazy Dog was building its restaurant in suburban Boca Raton.

“We want to do it the right way,” Taylor said. “We want to have everything in line with the state law and local.”

Drahos expressed concerns that in approving a special use permit for dogs to eat next to their owners on restaurants’ outdoor patios, it would invite potentially dangerous situations. He asked if there are any breed restrictions at Lazy Dog, to which Taylor said no.

Dogs can be great dining companions, Mayor Anne Gerwig said. Her son has a pitbull who is “the best-behaved dog you could ever imagine,” she said, noting that the dog goes everywhere with her son, who lives in California.

“I had no idea that it wasn’t even allowed here outdoors, where we do see it practiced,” Gerwig said of dogs joining their owners at restaurants’ outdoor seating areas.

It seems like the chain puts a lot of faith in dogs’ owners, Drahos said. He described a scenario: “Little Sally walks over to Buster the bulldog, and Buster bites her in the face.”

“I just do not get this concept,” Drahos said, noting that maybe he is “way too pessimistic.”

If there are skirmishes or misbehaving dogs, Lazy Dog asks the owner to leave and comps their meal, Taylor said.

Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone pointed to the 40 restaurants Lazy Dog operates around the country and the success the chain has seen. “I think this is something we don’t have currently in the village,” he said. “It’s the model of the restaurant and I can support this.”

Napoleone noted that people already bring their dogs into outdoor seating areas when they’re not technically allowed to do so.

“All of those folks will have to come in to ask for special use permits?” Councilman John McGovern asked.

Any restaurant interested in obtaining a special use permit will be provided the process to obtain one, Newell confirmed.

As I reported in February for the Palms West Journal, Lotis is set to feature a robust lineup of dining options, in addition to Lazy Dog: Cooper’s Hawk Winery, Turning Point, Naked Taco, Frank Pepe, Mooyah Burgers, Mazza Mediterranean, Foxtail Coffee and Raw JĹ«ce. Read more about the project here.


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