MADEIRA BEACH — The planned Schooner Hotel development has taken the next step in the approval process for it to be built. During a quasi-judicial hearing at the July 14 city commission meeting, the city determined that the project meets the legal requirements to qualify for Planned Development (PD) zoning status.
The PD designation allows more height and density than would normally have been allowed under city codes, in exchange for adding amenities that benefit the city. The hotel as planned will be seven floors plus a rooftop restaurant and ground level parking, with 56 rooms. That is 14 rooms more than the old Schooner Hotel currently on the property.
The hotel would be on the beach at Gulf Boulevard and 146th Avenue. A property across Gulf Boulevard is included in the project and would contain retail space and parking for the hotel, and a landscaped buffer along the side that adjoins residential property.
Community Development Director Linda Portal explained that while the PD ordinance was approved on first reading in April, this second reading “requires that you start the whole presentation all over.” There were some changes made since first reading — the amount of parking on the east side of Gulf Boulevard was increased while retail space is reduced, and the hotel’s rooftop restaurant is more shielded to reduce noise for neighboring properties.
A presentation by Portal provided evidence that the proposed development meets the legal requirements of a PD. Such things as consistency with the surrounding area, meeting provisions for traffic and parking impact, and land use density were addressed.
Portal said, “This plan concentrates all density for the combined site onto the beach side to reduce auto/pedestrian conflict.” The result was a taller building on the beach than an earlier plan that had hotel buildings on both sides of Gulf Boulevard, but the benefit was a lower level of pedestrians crossing the street to use hotel and beach amenities.
New conceptual drawings of the proposed hotel were presented that showed an L-shaped building, as before, but with additional design features and “beachy” colors. The hotel is set back from Gulf Boulevard with a landscaped area in front, a dramatic improvement from the current situation that has no setbacks and parking spaces that require backing out into the street to exit the property.
The meeting followed a judicial format with evidence presented first by the city. Then questions were asked by attorney Shane Costello representing the developer, followed by challenges from an attorney representing two residents who were not in favor of granting the PD zoning to the project.
Attorney Timothy Weber, representing residents William Gay and Mike Burke, who were not present, questioned the density calculation that was used by the city. He said the density being proposed does not comply with the comprehensive plan. Weber also asked Portal for more detail on setbacks, and the basis for saying that the existing infrastructure will support the project.
During a time for public comment, resident Tom Edwards said he was concerned about the parking issues. He said, “How are they going to control that only people going to the hotel are going to park in this lot?” He also said he thought there were not enough parking spaces for patrons of the hotel rooms, plus the restaurants, as well as staff.
Costello, representing the developer, said there are codes specifying how to calculate the number of parking spaces required for a development.
“The code is the law. And the fact is, we meet code,” Costello said. “That’s the standard we need to apply, and we exceed that standard.”
In his closing argument, Costello said, “You heard the testimony from your staff. The competent substantial evidence supports an approval.”
The opposing attorney, Weber, concluded his presentation saying, “What you’re being asked to approve is an illegal project, and there has not been competent substantial evidence on all of those (required) criteria.”
When it was finally time for the commissioners to express their opinions, Mayor John Hendricks was first to speak.
“I feel like we need to trust our staff, and our staff recommends for this,” Hendricks said. “It’s a project that needs to be done, to tear down an old dilapidated couple of buildings and move this city forward.”
Commissioner Helen “Happy” Price mentioned several of the criteria the project needed to meet to qualify for PD status, and said they had all been satisfied. She said she was ready for the approval process to move to the next steps.
The newest commissioner, Dave Hutson, said, “I’m still nervous about the density. I would like to see the hotel changed — they’re asking an awful lot.”
Before the vote, City Attorney Thomas Trask said a supermajority is needed for passage, which means at least 4 out of the 5 commissioners need to vote yes. That turned out to be the outcome, with four yes votes to one against. Voting No was Hutson, with Hendricks, Price, Nancy Hodges and Doug Andrews in favor.
Next steps in the approval process for the project are a vote by the commission on the development agreement, rescheduled to August 11, obtaining approvals from the state Department of Transportation and water management district, and a final approval from the Madeira Beach Planning Commission.
High-and-dry to get another look
The construction of a high-and-dry boat storage facility at the City Marina has been a priority for Hendricks going back to when he ran for mayor last year. He said a high-and-dry facility would be “a very lucrative opportunity” for the city.
But when a feasibility study showed a high-and-dry would cost $30 million to build, Hendricks said he would not support it, saying that was “way too much debt to put on the city.”
At last month’s commission meeting, Hendricks wanted to look at a public-private partnership, where a full-service company would build and manage the high-and-dry, and share the costs and revenues with the city.
At the July 14 commission meeting, Hendricks said that Cardno, the consulting company that came up with the $30 million cost, did not do a good job and only asked one company what it would cost. Hendricks said he and City Manager Bob Daniels “had spoken with other companies that are way, way under what the consultant said the projected cost would be.”
The consultant needs to “take another look” at the cost estimate, Hendricks said.
Commissioner Andrews said he wants to have more discussion at a city workshop meeting on the pros and cons of whether this is the right time to build a high-and-dry, and the options for how to do it and pay for it.
The commission agreed, and the high-and-dry will be a topic on an upcoming workshop.