CLEARWATER — What began as a simple request of the city council by planning staff for direction about a development agreement turned into a heated debate between two developers who own neighboring beachfront sites on South Gulfview Boulevard.
The property in question is 1.4 acres where the 110-room Wyndham Garden now operates. Property owner Uday Lele of Enchantment LLC plans to tear down the hotel to build 202 new rooms, 51 of which will be set aside as ownership units.
The proposed 14-story building would be 150 feet high with 15-foot side setbacks. The density equates to 150 units per acre — maxing out what is allowable under Beach by Design guidelines in the Clearwater Pass district. In order to build to this density, Enchantment needs an allocation of 92 units from the hotel density reserve pool.
Planning staff concluded that the project complied with all Beach by Design guidelines but asked council for direction regarding the number of ownership units that should be allowed. These units would be for sale to individuals or fractional interest buyers.
Fractional ownership allows several unrelated parties to share in, and thus mitigate the risk of, ownership of an asset such as real estate, a jet or a yacht.
“We’re giving away 92 units of density reserve to get 41 new hotel rooms?” questioned Vice Mayor Paul Gibson. “I thought the plan was to compensate for lost hotel rooms.”
Gibson reasoned that Wyndham Garden currently provides 110 hotel rooms; the new 202-unit project will yield 151 hotel rooms after subtracting the 51 ownership units. Therefore, Clearwater Beach will gain 41 new hotel rooms over the existing 110 rooms.
Attorney Brian Aungst Jr. spoke on behalf of Enchantment, assuring the council that all of the units most likely will function as hotel rooms. None of the ownership units will be a primary residence. Owner occupancy will be restricted to one month, and most voluntarily will contribute their unit to the hotel reservation system.
But the more contentious issue brought up at the meeting is the requirement that a separation between building towers of 100 feet or more in height be at least 100 feet wide.
This is problematic for Marquesas LLC, owner of the neighboring 4.5-acre site situated directly east and at the foot of the Sand Key Bridge. That company’s plan, which has not been submitted to the city, is likely to include a tower that is more than 100 feet high — or maybe two towers.
“When they put this building 15 feet from their property line, we ipso facto just had an 85-foot setback jammed on our property whether we like it or not,” said Joel Tew, land-use attorney representing Marquesas. “We already have plans that are quite inconsistent with that ... that you will see very soon.”
Marquesas LLC is a partnership between JMC Communities and Ocean Properties, Ltd. JMC developed Sandpearl Resort, Mandalay Beach Club and Belle Harbor in Clearwater Beach. Ocean Properties recently gained development approval to build a hotel on the former Adam’s Mark site and owns a managing partnership interest in Sandpearl Resort.
“We came to the city some 15 years ago mainly because we bought into the vision of the city leaders and the community to redevelop Clearwater Beach in a thoughtful quality manner,” said Michael Cheezem, chief executive officer of JMC Communities.
“I think there have been some unintended consequences to the amendments to Beach by Design that have allowed projects such as this one to wall off the waterfront and degrade the walking experience and have a negative impact on neighbors.”
Mayor George Cretekos said, “Again we’re at this point where we’re trying to jam an awful lot in a small amount of space. ... Unfortunately, the way I understand Beach by Design, this is what it says we can do. ... We had a hotel previously that we had a lot of pain over, and no sooner do we approve it, we hear from somebody else who wants to do the same thing.”
Cretekos was referring to the controversial approval process of the 171-room Hampton Inn project earlier this year. Many city officials and members of the public objected to its density and felt the design created a wall effect along South Gulfview Boulevard.
“Why don’t you two get together and see if you can come up with something that would give us more view corridors than it appears we are getting,” Cretekos suggested to representatives of the developers.
“How long are we going to wait?” replied Aungst. “It is unfair to burden my client with speculation about what could go next door. ... Treat us like everyone else asking for units.”
A second public hearing on the matter was scheduled for Wednesday evening.
The city’s Beach by Design guidelines implement a strategic plan to revitalize Clearwater Beach. The plan is grouped in these general categories: transportation and parking; redevelopment of “superblocks” between the beach and the Hilton, and of the Mandalay retail district; upgrading of the beach; Gulfview/Coronado hotel/retail redevelopment; East Shore entertainment district and marina; Bayside multifamily redevelopment; and Brightwater Finger redevelopment.
Beach by Design, adopted in 2001 and amended seven times, the last in 2010, recognizes a need to find a balance between residents and tourists. For more information, go to http://tinyurl.com/owbol9v.