CLEARWATER — Tonight, a divided City Council will decide whether to approve the construction of a new 15-story hotel on the south end of Clearwater Beach.
The proposed Hampton Inn & Suites would have 116 hotel rooms on 10 floors over five levels of parking. It would rise up on a site that's currently a parking lot between a Quality Hotel and an EconoLodge on S Gulfview Boulevard, on Clearwater Pass not far from the Sand Key Bridge.
It's anyone's guess which way tonight's vote will go. The subject of the Hampton Inn led to sharp disagreements between council members at a work session Tuesday.
Mayor George Cretekos and Vice Mayor Paul Gibson aren't fond of the plan.
Cretekos thinks the 150-foot-tall hotel would be too big for the 0.8-acre site, repeatedly comparing it to "putting 10 pounds of flour in a five-pound bag."
"It's going to be a towering structure on a narrow piece of land on a relatively small highway," added Gibson. "I would like to see this property redeveloped, but I've got some concerns about whether this is the right way to redevelop it."
Both men worry about overloading the beach, because they're quite familiar with beach traffic — Cretekos lives on Sand Key, Gibson on north Clearwater Beach.
However, council member Jay Polglaze told them that their personal views shouldn't matter in this case. He said he supports the hotel because city planners and the city's Community Development Board recommended that it be approved. The plan complies with city codes, and a study predicted the hotel would have little impact on traffic.
"You move next to an airport, you're going to hear airplanes. You live in Clearwater Beach, Sand Key, St. Pete Beach or Madeira Beach, you know what you're getting into when you move there. That is our driver, that is our economic engine," Polglaze said. "I don't see the City Council as having that type of authority, that we should make a decision on density based on emotional personal preference."
Cretekos and Gibson responded that they were elected to make legislative decisions. They had City Attorney Pam Akin explain that the development board is a quasi-judicial body that reviews whether a project meets code, while the City Council is a legislative body that's deciding whether to grant additional hotel rooms to the developer.
Clearwater allows beach hotel developers who meet certain conditions to draw units from a pool of extra rooms, building more rooms than they otherwise could per acre.
"I'm not speaking from emotion. I'm trying to do what is right just as you are trying to do what is right for the city of Clearwater," Cretekos told Polglaze. "I haven't stated how I'm going to vote. I have stated that I would be much more supportive of this project if it were one building instead of two."
The Hampton Inn will be paired with the existing five-story Quality Hotel next door at 655 S Gulfview Blvd. The Hampton would be built on the current Quality Hotel parking lot. The two hotels would have the same owner and would share the Hampton's 245-space parking garage.
The owner, Clearwater Grande Development, is asking the city to split its 1.4-acre Quality Hotel property into two parcels for the project so it can qualify for up to 136 extra rooms from the density pool rather than just 100.
The proposed 116-room Hampton Inn on 0.8 acre is asking for 76 of those extra rooms.
No new construction is planned at the 91-room Quality Hotel, but if the property split leaves it with only 0.6 acre, it will have too many rooms for the size of its property and will violate the city zoning code.
To fix that potential violation, the developer is asking the city to award the Quality Hotel 60 extra rooms from the density pool, giving it a way out of the zoning code problem.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.