Redington pier sparks debate

The Redington Shores Planning and Zoning Board voted against zoning changes that would save the Redington Long Pier.

REDINGTON SHORES — A developer’s proposal to build a 120-room hotel on the historic Redington Long Pier property and save the pier failed in the first step of the approval process.

The town’s Planning and Zoning Board Oct. 3 voted to deny recommending zoning and land-use changes required for the development to move forward. Although the board’s vote serves simply as advice to the Town Commission, it is an important factor in the approval process, which also involves county and state review.

The Planning and Zoning Board’s decision came after board members heard from the developer, the town’s planning consultant, and residents who spoke both in favor of and against the development proposal.

Speakers who opposed the development outnumbered those in support, and did so even though they knew that meant losing the pier. Planning consultant David Healey spoke first and argued against changing the zoning and land-use requirements.

Healey said the development being proposed would require two amendments to the town’s comprehensive plan. The land use would need to be changed from recreation/open space to resort facilities medium. The property would need to be rezoned from outdoor recreation/public open space to commercial tourist facilities.

Healey said the 120-room hotel being proposed would create a density of 166 units per acre, “which is 6 to 11 times what the current code allows.”

That is not in the public interest, Healey said. Also, the proposed land use change is “incompatible with the established existing uses on the west side of Gulf Boulevard.”

Any future type of use on the property “would be dramatically affected by changing the zoning from recreation/open space to resort facilities medium,” Healey said.

Healey also pointed out the property had been zoned recreational open space “for at least 40 years.”

Healey said the Planning and Zoning Board should recommend the Town Commission deny the developer’s application to change the zoning and land use of the pier property.

The changes would be “an inconsistent and incompatible use of the property” in relationship to its neighboring uses, and not consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinance “and therefore not in the public interest,” Healey said in his report on the issue.

The developer’s business partner, Tony Utegaard, stressed the hotel and pier reconstruction being proposed cannot be built under the current code.

“The rules would have to be changed. But that can be done, if the town wants to,” he said.

“The question is, does the Town of Redington Shores want the pier? It could be saved if you are willing to work with us for a win-win solution for everyone,” Utegaard said.

The new hotel “would generate the revenue needed to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the pier, and provide $77,000 in tax benefit to the town,” he said.

Utegaard said the development agreement with the town “would be very specific to this property only.” He said the proposed hotel would “have a thin profile” and be consistent with the surrounding condos, which he said are being used as hotels with transient renters.

Residents who packed Town Hall for the pier development discussion were passionate on both sides of the issue.

Those in favor of the development want to save the pier. They spoke of childhood memories and of fishing from the pier until the deterioration of recent years.

“I spent most of my childhood on this pier,” said Milos Mitrovic of Largo.

“It’s a priceless landmark and I hope it gets rebuilt,” Mitrovic said, pointing out that the Skyway Pier and Pier 60 at Clearwater are the only piers left in the area.

Restaurateur Frank Chivas, who owns Salt Rock Grill and other notable restaurants, said he plans to open an eatery in the hotel if it is built.

Chivas said he started using the pier when he was 10 years old.

“I have a lot of fond memories of that,” Chivas said. “If you want a pier, you’ve got to have a hotel.”

Pointing to developer Benjamin Mallah, he said, “This man will make it happen.”

Melanie Frear, who lives in the Club Redington condos, said, “I’m in favor of saving the pier at all costs.”

Blaine East said, “The town needs an iconic structure that sets it apart. It will be something great for the town.”

Tom Haase added, “The pier has to be rebuilt. It belongs here. Refurbish the pier and build the hotel.”

Speakers who opposed the development outnumbered those in support by about 2 to 1. They were concerned about losing their water views, the increase in traffic and tourists using the beach, and changing the character of the community.

Robert Pergolizzi, condo board vice president at Angler’s Cove to the south of the pier property and a professional land use planner, spoke for the condo board, saying the pier property “is incompatible with a 120-room hotel.” He said the land use should not be changed from recreation/open space; it should be used for outdoor recreation.

The nine-story hotel “is well in excess of any adjoining properties, and way out of character with what the (current) zoning allows,” Pergolizzi said.

He said he would like to see the county buy the property for use as a public park.

Bill Krajewski said the town “would be going down a slippery slope by changing the zoning.”

“I fear there will be people wanting to develop much larger properties and this will just become another Clearwater Beach or Treasure Island,” Krajewski said.

He said the proposed hotel is 30 percent larger than the nearby Doubletree Inn.

Chris Strache said the proposed development “will seriously affect my property value.”

“Right now I have a big expansive view,” he said. “Then, I will have a little tiny view.”

Sharon Dippel said she has lived in Redington Shores for 19 years.

“It’s a nice bedroom community,” she said. “If I wanted a high-rise hotel next to me, I would have bought in Clearwater Beach.”

“This will increase traffic, which will overflow and affect everyone on the beaches,” Dippel said.

Utegaard, the developer’s representative, told residents who objected to their views being obstructed, “As much as we love our views, we are not always entitled to an unhindered view.”

“Something will eventually be built there,” Utegaard said. “This agreement would make us fix or rebuild the pier.”

After hearing from planner Healey, the developer, and residents on both sides of the issue, the Planning and Zoning Board voted on whether to recommend the zoning and land-use changes needed for the proposed hotel and pier reconstruction to move forward. With little discussion, they voted to recommend denying both changes.

Prior to the vote, board member Lisa Foster said “an increase in density on this property would be greatly irresponsible for us to approve. There is no guarantee of what will end up here if we change this land use.”

Mallah spoke before the meeting’s end, acknowledging his proposal’s failure to win approval, while saying his plan to save the pier was the only viable option.

“I specialize in taking projects that are broken and fixing them,” Mallah said. “A hotel is the only viable plan I could come up with to generate enough revenue to pay for the construction, maintenance and operation of the pier. A condo will not do it.

“If the plan is denied, as it appears to be, I hope someone in the city can come up with a plan to save it, because the state is scheduling to tear the pier down,” Mallah said. “Hopefully, that plan will work for everyone. Thank you for the opportunity.”

The requested zoning and land use changes will now be considered by the Town Commission at their meeting Wednesday, Oct. 9.