CLEARWATER — A city development board has signed off on plans for two Clearwater Beach hotels — including one that was previously shot down by the City Council — as well as a plan to convert a former downtown bank high-rise into condominiums.
The Community Development Board on Tuesday approved a planned Hampton Inn at 655 S Gulfview Blvd.; a taller, revamped Sea Captain Resort near the Beach Marina; and the downtown project at the corner of Cleveland and Osceola streets.
The beach hotel projects will have to go before the City Council for a vote at its June 19 meeting.
The only proposal that didn't get unanimous approval from the development board was a scaled-down plan for the Hampton Inn.
In February, the City Council rejected developer Steve Page's original proposal for the hotel, expressing concerns about another high-rise hotel creating a "canyon effect" on south Clearwater Beach.
That defeat, after Page had sunk $170,000 into design and franchise agreement costs, spurred an effort to streamline the process for beach development in which the council would cede its power of final approval in exchange for an earlier look at proposals and a public hearing. The council gave preliminary approval to the idea over Mayor George Cretekos' opposition earlier this month.
On Tuesday, development board member Don Van Weezel cast the only vote against the downsized 171-room project, which would be built on the parking lot of the Quality Inn. The new plan asks for 80 units from the city's hotel density reserve. The original project requested 136.
The city created the density reserve in 2008 to attract more mid-sized, affordable hotels to the beach.
Page's representative, attorney Katie Cole, said only a small percentage of the city's allocated rooms from its reserves have been built.
"What is wonderful about this opportunity is (Page) is ready and poised to construct these units," Cole said.
The owners of the neighboring Gulfview Hotel protested that the Hampton Inn would block sunlight and sea breezes from half their units in a property they had purchased two decades ago.
Renee Lenart van Zanten, the five-story, 64-room hotel's general manager, said the Hampton Inn would damage their property value and annoy guests.
"One expectation is that there is open air and some sunlight," Van Zanten said. "The experience will be automobile traffic and garage lights throughout the entire night."
Another south beach hotel, the Sea Captain Resort at 40 Devon Drive, will morph from a quaint, two-story motel dating from the 1950s to nine stories containing 85 rooms, banquet and meeting rooms, a fitness facility and a rooftop bar.
The renewed effort, which reinvigorates a similarly approved plan two years ago, will look a lot more like its recently constructed neighbor, the 10-story Pier House 60 Marina Hotel, which also has a rooftop bar.
"It is absolutely a jewel that everyone could point to on Clearwater Beach. It's small by nature and therefore very accommodating to returning guests that they've enjoyed for years and years," said architect Stephen R. Fowler.
The motel has a loyal Canadian and Midwestern following, he said.
One resident spoke against the plan. Nearby resident Marcia Marquardt worried about increased traffic, saying the beach crowds already delayed her leaving her home by half an hour or more.
Developer Moises Agami, a Scientologist from Mexico City making his first major foray into American real estate, intends to convert the vacant AmSouth bank building at Cleveland and Osceola into a 52-unit condo tower with retail and restaurant space on the first floor.
Agami hopes to market the two-bedroom, two-bath units for as low as $200,000 to attract young techies who work in Clearwater and tire of a long commute from Tampa.
Before giving the project their approval Tuesday, some development board members raised concerns about adequate parking, especially for the restaurant.
That won't be a problem, said Clearwater planner Mark Parry.
"Our problem is that we have more than enough. I'd love for there to be a parking problem downtown," Parry said.
While the Hampton Inn project appears likely to get started soon, city planners said that the Sea Captain and downtown condo projects might take longer to get off the ground.
Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago