Beach by Design Amendments Questioned
by Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - The city's effort to incent the development of mid-priced hotels on Clearwater Beach has been delayed. Last week the Pinellas Planning Council (PPC) questioned some provisions of the proposed amendments to Beach by Design and Clearwater's own Community Development Board (CDB) recommended a change. As a result, the City Council hearing, originally scheduled for March 20, has been delayed until April 17.
The principal incentive offered by the proposed Beach by Design amendments for mid-priced hotel development was a 1385-unit hotel unit density pool. Those units would be available to properties 3/4-acre and larger, no more than 100 units would be dispensed per property, and projects using the pool would have to stay within Beach by Design's 75-to-100 foot height limitations unless additional density was brought to the property in the form of Transferred Development Rights (TDR).
The CDB met last Tuesday and voted to recommend that the City Council approve the amendments, but with one exception. Board member Frank Dame questioned the 3/4-acre minimum lot size to qualify for density pool units; "Let the economics take care of themselves, and reduce the minimum lot requirement," he argued. The board agreed, and recommended completely removing the minimum lot size requirement by a vote of 5-1.
The PPC were a bit more technical in their evaluation of the uses and limitations of the proposed 1385-unit hotel density pool.
They first questioned the proposed disparity in density between small lots and those 2.5-acres and greater. A 3/4-acre parcel would be eligible for a density of 183 units per acre, they observed, while large lots would be capped at 90 units per acre. The PPC recommended, "restructuring the allocation program to at least maintain some uniform density relative to lot area."
The PPC also observed that the city's target mid-priced hotel of 120 rooms on 3/4-acre has far more density than the 120 units per acre currently permitted by the county on parcels of 2.5 acres and more. "The PPC staff would recommend the City reconsider scaling the maximum number of rooms available to be allocated from the reserve with respect to parcel size," wrote Christopher M. Mettler, PPC Program Planner.
Finally, the PPC questioned why hotel projects using the density pool would not be eligible for height variances, but projects using TDR's would. This view was shared by Sheila Cole, Executive Director of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, during the both the CDB hearing and Council meeting.
"We're going to have our staff get with PPC this week and work out whatever their concerns are," said Clearwater Planning Director Michael Delk. He said that the countywide rules provide greater density on larger parcels, but that the assembly of such large parcels on Clearwater Beach has proven to be impossible. "A mid-priced mid-sized 120-room hotel can't afford to buy 1.5-acres on Clearwater Beach," said Delk.
Regarding the requirement for TDR's to obtain height variances, Delk said, "We don't believe that it is inherent that additional height is needed to take advantage of the density reserve we are proposing and construct the targeted mid-price mid-size hotel." But Delk said that his department is considering loosening some of the limitations on height.
The requirement for TDR's in exchange for height is also motivated to some extent by the city's desire to preserve the value of density units that a property owner might choose to sell.
A good example of TDR value is the former 22-unit Sea Air Resort Motel at Hamden and First Street. It was sold in 2005 for $2.4-million, its density transferred to JMC Properties for the Marquesas condo development, and the property (sans development rights), sold to the city for $100-thousand and is now a parking lot.
While hotel unit TDR's are today estimated to be worth about $40-thousand, their value would diminish to near zero in an environment where the city is offering 1385 units just for asking and consenting to a development agreement. Reserving height variances for buyers of TDR's would tend to prop-up their value.
The required use of TDR's for hotels seeking heights greater than 100-feet may also serve the city in its quest for a beach parking garage.
Should small motel owners along Coronado Drive, for example, sell their development rights to a mid-price hotel developer, the city should be able to purchase those then-undevelopable parcels for much less than their worth today, making the long-sought beach parking garage more financially feasible.
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