Council gives Gulf View Hotel more time to complete site plan

CLEARWATER — The owners of a family-run inn at 625 S. Gulfview Blvd. will have three years to complete the site plan for their expansion project, two years more than city officials had wanted to allow.
City leaders have become frustrated that they’ve approved a number of beach hotel projects and haven’t seen much progress on actual construction. So city staff decided last month to enforce a development code provision requiring site plan approval within one year of the city council’s okay of the development application.
That prompted a protest from Ted and Maria Lenart’s lawyer that city staff changed the conditions of the couple’s development agreement midstream in the application process to expand their Gulf View Hotel on Clearwater Beach. The Lenarts wanted five years to submit their site plan.
Other applicants who went before the city staff and council this year were granted up to 10 years, argued Katie Cole, of the law firm Hill Ward Henderson, which represents the Lenarts. She asked the council to compromise at three years.
“If you can’t get final engineering done in one year, then something is wrong with the project,” countered Councilman Bill Jonson.
Councilman Jay Polglaze agreed but conceded the Lenart project “got caught in the middle.”
So the council, at its Nov. 20 meeting, approved the Lenarts’ development agreement and gave them three years to complete their site plan.
The council further agreed that developers of future projects that come before the board will be limited to the one-year time frame.
The Lenarts expressed concerns about their inn’s fate when the council in June approved a scaled-back proposal for a 14-story Hampton Inn. That towering structure will be wedged between the Lenarts’ hotel and the Quality Inn on what’s now a parking lot overlooking Clearwater Pass.
Besides dwarfing the five-story Gulf View Hotel, the Hampton would obliterate the views from nearly half of the Lenarts’ rooms, they complained.
To further complicate things for the Gulf View, the Shephard’s Beach Resort’s expansion is slated directly to the north. So the Lenarts began the city application process to replace their current property with a 10-story hotel with 103 rooms, the maximum number of units allowed on that site.
So far this year, a total of 790 new hotel rooms have been approved along the beach. Most of the developers were granted additional units from the hotel density reserve pool established by Beach by Design, the 2001 master plan for development along Clearwater Beach.
In 2008, Beach by Design was amended to create a hotel density reserve of 1,385 units. The purpose was to attract more mid-priced hotels to the beach by allowing developers to build more rooms than otherwise would be allowed. For such a hotel to be a financial success in an area with expensive real estate, developers need as many rooms as they can get.
The Lenart family requested 69 units from the reserve pool for its new project that will result in a density of 150 units per acre.
Last summer, a revision was put in place to help streamline the process for reviewing developers’ projects and to mitigate their upfront expenses. The revision is designed to give applicants some assurance that their projects meet council expectations before the developers pay planning, engineering and other fees.
The new process now starts with the city council review and two public hearings before it goes to the Development Review Committee and the Community Development Board.  In the past, the city council reviewed the development application at the end of the process.
The revision in the process applies only to applicants requesting units from the hotel density reserve.
Gazette correspondent Victoria Jones contributed to this story.
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