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Limits proposed to improvements at small hotels in Pass-a-Grille

ST. PETE BEACH — Proposed new zoning rules in Pass-a-Grille could sharply curtail the ability of small traditional hotels to redevelop to meet future economic demands.

Existing codes do not restrict the square footage of redeveloped hotels as long as they meet setback and height requirements.

But if the new rules go into effect, redeveloped hotels in the Traditional Hotel District (THD) cannot exceed their present square footage.

For example, if a hotel owner wanted to build guests larger bedrooms, they most likely would have to reduce the number of rentable tourist units.

Total square footage can be increased only to meet federal or state handicapped accessibility requirements, or to meet other building code requirements.

The proposed THD zoning ordinance also bans new swimming pools or spas at any Pass-a-Grille hotel south of 15th Avenue and lowers the building height from the present 35 feet to 32 feet. The latter change would have to be ratified by voters in a charter-required referendum.

"Planning board members and residents feel pools and spas generate too much noise. They also do not want hotels to be any taller than adjacent homes," city planner Catherine Hartley said.

"Quite frankly, I would not want to stay in a hotel without a pool," she cautioned the planning board during a meeting this month.

According to Karl Holley, the city's community development director, the main issue facing the commission is how to "balance the competing interests" of hotel owners and nearby homeowners.

"The proposed changes make the hotel zoning standards considerably more restrictive than they are presently," Holley said Monday.

The new THD rules were recently approved by the Planning Commission and are scheduled to be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Board Dec. 2. If approved by the City Commission on Dec. 14, a second commission vote would be required for the rules to take effect.

Joe Caruso, owner of the Coconut Inn on Pass-a-Grille, calls the proposed new rules a "lynching" for small hotel owners.

Once in effect, the rules would prevent Caruso from rebuilding his hotel with amenities he says are necessary to compete successfully with similar small hotels on Anna Maria Island in Manatee County or in Sarasota.

Under the new rules he could keep an existing but aging spa, but cannot move or upgrade it.

"If they do this, I just might as well just hang it up. I've got to be able to compete with hotels in other towns," Caruso said Monday.

Caruso has been in a long battle with the city to get the right to redevelop his 1920s era hotel. He tried, unsuccessfully, last year to get THD zoning designation for his two lots.

Caruso has also sued the city for halting a recreation-area renovation project at the Coconut Inn, despite having earlier issued him a building permit for a planned gazebo and spa.

He reapplied for rezoning several months ago, but voluntarily put his request on hold until the city decided whether or not to change its THD redevelopment rules.

Ironically, the Pass-a-Grille THD zoning designation was created several years ago in an attempt to help preserve smaller hotels and the tourist business they create.

But when residents protested Caruso's plans to redevelop the Coconut Inn last year, the City Commission rejected the rezoning.

And when Caruso signaled he would reapply for THD zoning this past summer, Commissioner Beverly Garnett, who represents Pass-a-Grille, pushed for the commission to take another look at its zoning code.

Limits proposed to improvements at small hotels in Pass-a-Grille 11/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 12:46pm]

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