CLEARWATER — In a close vote, the City Council on Thursday night rejected a 15-story Hampton Inn & Suites proposed for the south end of Clearwater Beach.
Although the city says it's hungry for more beach hotels, three of the five council members felt that the proposed 116-room hotel was just too big. They thought it was too much for the site, which is currently a parking lot between two other hotels on Clearwater Pass not far from the Sand Key Bridge.
The vote was a stinging defeat for local developer Steve Page, who said he spent $170,000 developing the plan, including a $72,000 nonrefundable Hampton Inn franchise agreement.
"The Hampton Inn would have been a great prize for the beach," he said as he walked out of City Hall. "That's the end of that."
The hotel received vocal support from the two newest council members, Jay Polglaze and Doreen Hock-DiPolito, who have been in office for a year. They noted that the proposal was created in close consultation with Clearwater's own planning staff. City staffers said the project met city codes and complied with Clearwater's blueprint for beach redevelopment, called Beach by Design.
However, Mayor George Cretekos, Vice Mayor Paul Gibson and council member Bill Jonson voted no, saying they wanted to avoid a concrete canyon effect on Clearwater Beach.
They also disapproved of the way the proposal divided the existing Quality Hotel at 655 S Gulfview Blvd. and its parking lot into two separate properties. Planners described this as a "creative" strategy to get permission to build more hotel rooms under the city's development rules.
The Hampton Inn would have been built on the Quality Hotel's parking lot, and both hotels would have then shared the Hampton's 245-space parking garage. The Hampton would have had 10 floors of hotel rooms over five levels of parking.
Neighboring property owners and a few Clearwater Beach residents came to Thursday night's meeting to oppose the project.
Jay Keyes of the Clearwater Beach Association recalled that City Council members have publicly regretted the canyon effect created by development on nearby Brightwater Drive.
Janet Nassif, board president of the 12-story Continental Towers condos nearby, said of the proposed 15-story hotel, "We do have the beginning here of a concrete canyon."
Longtime Clearwater Beach activist Anne Garris compared the barrier island to a beautiful woman who "doesn't have to take the first guy that comes along."
"If the council does not have the authority to say no, then why are we here? Where are we, the taxpayers, represented?" she asked the City Council. "There's a rumor that you all may get sued if you turn this down. I say it's my tax money — go for it."
Page previously built the Westview Grande Condo on Indian Shores and recently won approval to build Madeira Beach's first new hotel in decades, a 90-room Courtyard by Marriott.
After hearing his Clearwater proposal get blasted, Page said he had worked within the city's guidelines in consultation with the city's staff, working to meet all of the traffic, environmental and zoning requirements. "That's all I have to go by," he said.
"It's a long, coordinated effort to get here. It's a very coordinated effort with the city," he told the council members who were about to give him the thumbs-down.
On the council, Polglaze worried about what kind of message the city was sending to developers. He argued that the arrival of a Hampton Inn would fit the city's long-stated strategy of attracting more mid-priced hotels to Clearwater Beach.
"Not everybody can afford to stay at the Hyatt and the Sandpearl," he said.
"It was designed to be a tourist district," Polglaze said of S Gulfview Boulevard. "If you're afraid of the canyon effect, you're on the wrong side of the street. You need to be on the beach."
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.