KEY LARGO -- The Island Grill at Mandalay Restaurant has shut down its outdoor bar due to an ongoing legal battle with its neighbor Sam Stoia.
Stoia attorney Andy Tobin says recent construction at the restaurant was not properly permitted by the county, and that the oceanfront facility is now encroaching on the right-of-way to a public water access area that separates it from the Mariner's Club.
Tobin said the restaurant has denied boaters' opportunity to use the boat ramp by placing gravel rock down for a parking lot.
"It's almost impossible to use the boat ramp," he said.
But in dispute is whether the ramp is even usable.
Mandalay owner Sam Nekhaila said the public access area is not deep enough to serve as a boat ramp, a fact the county is aware of, which is why it has not objected to the parking lot.
Earlier in the summer, the Mandalay held a grand opening featuring the outdoor bar. Stoia later filed a complaint that the bar was below flood level, which prompted county building officials to investigate and close the bar. Nekhaila plans on reopening the outdoor bar by next month with wheels to make it mobile.
He said he will also have to cut off any utility to the bar to comply with code. Fountain soda and draft beer will be available at the inside bar.
"Our neighbor just wants us to set up a shack like it was 40 years ago," Nekhaila said.
Tobin said the County Commission was duped into believing that previous owners and the county had agreed that the right-of-way was permitted to be breached.
"They relied on the owner and they should have gotten it surveyed," Tobin said.
Tobin described the outdoor restaurant as a hindrance to the neighborhood, including loud music at night and hard liquor sales. But Nekhaila said oceanfront high-end restaurants need to be able to cater to their customers and the outdoor venue has not garnered a complaint from the neighborhood.
Tobin said he has challenged the restaurant's liquor license.
"It's in the middle of a neighborhood," he said. "It's never had a liquor license before."
In an August court filing, Tobin asked that the restaurant be required to obtain demolition permits and get rid of anything impeding the public right-of-way following a 1997 land survey. He said that includes a parking lot.
Nekhaila said the entire situation is caused by Stoia, who he describes as the "toughest man he's ever had to deal with."
Assistant County Attorney Lisa Granger said the matter is in litigation and did not return requests for comment.