MADEIRA BEACH — At least two developers want to build new hotels in the city, one possibly in John's Pass Village.
But that won't happen, City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr. told the commission last week, unless the city's zoning and development regulations are changed.
"In recent years, it has been increasingly difficult to attract development of new or expanded hotels," Higginbotham said during a workshop discussion of a proposal that would increase allowable density.
According to current city codes, no hotel can exceed four stories or 60 units per acre.
Proposed new rules would increase that density up to 125 units per acre when a project is regulated under a city-approved development plan. Density could be increased another 25 percent through transfer of development rights from participating adjacent properties or from a special development rights pool created by the city.
The actual maximum density allowed would depend on the project's total land area and agreements with the city.
Changes to building heights would be governed by variance and planned development regulations.
Higginbotham says that even smaller national hotels, such as Holiday Inn Express, need a minimum of 80 units per acre to become financially feasible. Most larger hotels want at least 100 units.
"In a largely built-out community like Madeira Beach, small lot sizes, fragmented ownership patterns and limited density have served to place hotel development at a relative disadvantage as compared to other types of development," Higginbotham said.
More than a year ago the commission unanimously asked Higginbotham to study ways to attract hotels to the city.
One idea under consideration is allowing adjoining properties to combine their development rights on one property, with the other becoming open space.
Another idea is for the city to put development rights from city-owned properties into a development pool that could be sold and transferred to privately owned properties where developers want to build attractive projects.
Several months ago, in an effort to fast-track modernization of the city's codes, Higginbotham spent $14,700 to hire a consultant — David Healey of Calvin Giordano & Associates — to draft ordinances that would make construction of tourism facilities more attractive.
Healey, formerly director of the Pinellas Planning Council, met with the commission last week to discuss ideas first developed by the council that he said would be beneficial to Madeira Beach.
"Over time, the council discovered hotels are at a competitive disadvantage for development or redevelopment, not only in Madeira Beach but throughout the county," Healey told the board.
In 2008, Pinellas County amended countywide development rules allowing increased hotel densities. Last year, the county added the ability for cities to allow transfer of development rights.
Healey is drafting four ordinances that would enable transfer of development rights and increase allowable densities for hotel or tourist-related developments.
A new land use category — Resort Facilities High — would be added to the city's comprehensive plan, and related land development regulations would be changed to allow density/intensity averaging, transfer of development rights, a temporary lodging unit pool, and rules for development agreements with the city.
If approved, the amended comprehensive plan, town center special area plan and land development regulations would "better position the city to facilitate additional temporary lodging use," Healey said.
Many of the changes must first be reviewed and approved by the county and state agencies, a process that could take months.
Higginbotham said he hoped the new ordinances would be ready for review by the county in the spring.
The commission seemed to like what it heard.
"Our citizens are screaming for at least one major hotel," Commissioner Steve Kochick said.
Commissioner Terry Lister agreed. "It would be beneficial for the city to have a hotel."
Mayor Pat Shontz was most emphatic: "If we are going to move the city forward, we have got to do this or just let the city sit as it is."