Increased Density for Beach Hotels Proposed
by Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - If you believe city leaders, tourism is the industry that fuels Clearwater's economy. And if you believe the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, the recent boom in condos at the expense of mom and pop hotels has created a shortage of about 800 mid-priced hotel/motel rooms on Clearwater Beach.
With the planned May completion of the city's $15-million Beach Walk project, which has turned the South Beach into a construction war zone for three years, demand for the city's tourist product should soon begin to grow.
But the convergence of growing demand and a reduced ability to satisfy that demand has the potential to write a new chapter in the Nightmare on South Gulfview Blvd. that the Clearwater Beach tourism industry has been enduring.
Clearwater's Planning Department has a potential solution, one that they aired to the public last Wednesday evening at the Clearwater Beach Recreation Center.
Planning Director Michael Delk explained that the loss of hotel rooms has become a county-wide issue, and that the Pinellas Planning Council (PPC) has proposed 'alternative densities' for hotels that range from 75 units per acre for parcels under one acre to 125 units per acre for parcels three or more acres in size.
But Delk said that the PPC proposal is geared to attracting resort hotels, something that Clearwater has already been successful at doing with the now-open Sandpearl Resort, the under-construction Hyatt Aqualea and the planned Kiran Grand.
City Planner Robert Tefft said that to attract mid-priced hotel development to Clearwater Beach, 'economic parity' had to be created between the condo and hotel alternatives of property redevelopment. He explained that to create a level economic playing field, a property would need a density of 5-7 hotel rooms to compete with each condo unit that could alternatively be built, and that the PPC proposal fails to achieve the necessary economic parity.
In a White Paper authored by Tefft, entitled An Analysis and Proposal for Increased Overnight Accommodation Density on Clearwater Beach, he claimed that a density of between 150 and 200 hotel units per acre would be necessary to compete with a condo density of 30 units per acre.
While 200 hotel units per acre would achieve economic parity, Tefft explained that it would overburden the beach roadways if applied generally. A recently completed traffic study concluded that the beach transportation system could support only 90 hotel units per acre, he said.
To solve the conflict between hotel density and traffic congestion, Tefft proposed the creation of a 1385-unit hotel density pool that could be dispensed on selected properties to promote the development of mid-priced hotels, much like the Beach by Design density pool was used to incent the development of the Sandpearl and Aqualea resort hotels.
Tefft also outlined a number of limitations that could be placed on the use of the proposed density pool units, including:
Some 25 members of the public offered opinions on the density pool proposal. Surprisingly, many were residents of Sand Key who were concerned that any increase in hotel unit density would further jeopardize the Shoppes of Sand Key, whose property is undergoing a rezoning process independent of the hotel density issue.
Public opinion ranged from beach resident David Hemerick's statement that, 'Any more density just creates a disparity, not a parity, for the quality of life on Clearwater Beach," to Sheila Cole, the Executive Director of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, claiming, "We're short about 1200 rooms… how do you tell people there's no room at the inn?"
Bob Pennock, whose planned redevelopment of a small apartment building in the Old Florida District to condos has been stalled by the housing market meltdown, was supportive of the proposal; "I think that mid-sized hotel units in our area fits right in with what you folks are talking about and, hopefully, that will come to fruition."
Delk said that the proposed density pool would be available only within the areas defined in Beach by Design, and would not be used on either Sand Key or Island Estates. He said that the next public hearing on the hotel density pool proposal might be as soon as the March 19th City Council meeting.
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