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Dunedin Beacon
Fenway Hotel may get new lease on life
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Photo by TOM GERMOND
The Fenway will be historically restored into a 132-room hotel.
DUNEDIN – After hours of public debate March 5, the Dunedin City Commission unanimously gave tentative approval to renovate the existing Fenway Hotel to serve again as an exclusive hotel.

The five-part public hearing brought dozens of residents who spoke both for and against the hotel, which is located at 453 Edgewater Drive. The hotel will be historically restored into a 132-room hotel and would have new, improved facilities such as a spa, ballroom and restaurant.

Many residents who live nearby worried about increased traffic and lack of parking. Others pointed out that the current residential zoning does not allow for a hotel and they were concerned about the legality of changing the zoning.

Construction began on The Fenway Hotel in 1924, before zoning existed. When zoning did come into place in the 1960s, the building was being used as a school, so the entire neighborhood was zoned residential, with the school getting a special exemption, said Matthew Campbell, assistant director of planning and development. The zoning change would be legal, he said, because Part B of the public hearing would approve a special zoning overlay that would limit the use of the site to the historically renovated hotel. If the site were to ever no longer be used for this particular use, then both the zoning and the zoning overlay would go back to residential zoning, he said.

“I think this land use change has the opportunity to bring this beautiful city back to life,” said Commissioner Dave Eggers.

Eggers said he thinks the hotel would bring economic and tourist development to Dunedin, and especially considering alternative uses for this land, he said he supported the zoning change and zoning overlay.

Some of the audience speakers expressed concern that the hotel would take away from Dunedin’s charm, but Commissioner Deborah Kynes disagreed.

“I feel this historical preservation is part of Dunedin’s charm,” Kynes said.

The commission unanimously voted to approve both the zoning change and the zoning overlay.

Most of the commission’s concerns regarded parking. They acknowledged the public’s concerns and asked for assurance that this would not become a problem. Campbell told the commission that parking had been surveyed at all the other historical hotels in the state, and the plan is to have 1.2 parking spaces per hotel unit, which is one of the highest parking requirements in the state.

Hotel staff will not be allowed to park on-site or on the neighboring streets, said the developer, George Rahdert. He said there will be off-site parking with shuttle service to the hotel and that hotels generally hire low-income workers who often bike, carpool and use public transportation to get to work, so he does not think parking will be as big of an issue as the public and commission may think. He brought Martin Smith, vice president and manager director of the Belleview Biltmore to echo those thoughts.

Hotel managers stagger shifts so not everyone needs the parking shuttles at the same time, Smith said, and the Biltmore has much less parking than is proposed for the Fenway, but it is not a problem, he said.

Kynes suggested the city look into having better PSTA coverage and that the developer look at parking options at the First Presbyterian Church and other areas.

The commission also asked the developer to ensure that noise would not be a problem to the neighborhood. Rahdert and Smith said that noise would not be a problem because first, architects design hotels to shield noise from the neighborhood, and second, noise cannot be a problem because the hotel’s own occupants would complain about noise even before neighbors would; it is in the hotel’s best interest to keep its occupants happy.

The commission unanimously passed the development agreement on first reading, but asked the developer to bring a specific parking plan to the second public hearing, which was set for March 26. At that meeting, the commission was to hold the second reading and final public hearing on the zoning change, the zoning overlay and the development agreement.

The preliminary site plan approval, was passed unanimously.

“I think the number of jobs this will bring to this community will be really important in the current economy,” said Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski.
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