By: Shelby Webb
The new “chickee” hut at the Marker 4 restaurant is nestled in between the restaurant and another Fisherman’s Wharf building. Property owners do not need to file permits with the city or county if they have a member of the Seminole or Muskogee tribes build the hut, thanks to an exemption in Florida’s Building Code. (March 4, 2014) Photo by Shelby Webb
VENICE – When it comes to tiki-type huts, the hands that build them can make the difference between a city violation and a no-hassle construction job.
The city of Venice issued a stop-work order against the owners of Marker 4 Restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf after officials learned the owners had commissioned a large hut without requesting a building permit.
But once the city realized what type of a hut it was, they immediately rescinded their order.
The structure, known as a “chickee” hut is exempt from Florida Building Codes when it is built by members of the Miccosukee or Seminole tribes of Florida.
Vince LaPorta, director of the Venice Building and Code Enforcement Department, said he encounters the structures at least several times a year.
“A lot of contractors try to build these huts without permits,” LaPorta said. “But they’re not Seminoles. They would have to be licensed through the tribe.”
On his desk sat a license faxed to his office by the Seminole tribe, detailing how the project-leader for the Marker 4 chickee project, Alex Antunez, is a member.
Antunez, owner of Seminole Tiki Huts, said his company builds more than 300 of the thatched-roof structures each year out of cypress logs and sabal palm fronds.
“The huts have been being built residentially for 50 years,” Antunez said. “But before then, it was a means of refuge in the Everglades from alligators and all that good stuff.”
Antunez said he learned to build the open-sided structures from his family, as did several others on the tribe’s reservation outside of Hollywood.
In fact, a carving of one of the structures serves as the emblem for the Seminole tribe.
Antunez said his business has garnered customers throughout the state, many of whom are eager to avoid the hassle of applying and waiting for city or county building permits, much like the owners of Marker 4.
Among Antunez’s other clients are the city of Sarasota, — which commissioned the chickee-hut bar at O’Leary’s Tiki Bar and Grill — several other county restaurants and dozens of residential projects.
“Folks take it to another level,” Antunez said. “They put signs and lights up, but anything else that’s done after the hut is up has to be permitted.”
That includes permits for installing sinks in the huts for outdoor bars and permits for wiring lights and fans to the roof of the huts.
Cassie Meyer, who is the property manager of Marker 4, said the restaurant owners do not think they will make any changes to the hut.
It will be used as a shaded waiting area for when the soon-to-be-reopened restaurant is crowded.
“We have a ton of people coming every day, checking out the chickee hut,” Meyer said. “We’ve been getting a good reaction from the neighbors and tourists cruising the parking lot.”
Meyer did not want to give a specific date when she thought Marker 4 would reopen, but Venice’s building and codes director LaPorta said they made a rough inspection on Tuesday.
“I think they’ll be open in a month or two,” LaPorta said.