MADEIRA BEACH — If the city truly wants to attract major hotel development, it will have to significantly broaden its density regulations.
That was the message City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr. delivered to a receptive City Commission last week.
No one on the commission objected to the city manager's plan to begin preparing the series of ordinances needed to increase hotel density in the city.
"The commission wants to do this. It would be terrible to wait to start this process a year or two from now when hotels are ready again to build. We want to be ready," Higginbotham said Tuesday.
Currently, the city's zoning code allows hotels a maximum of 60 temporary dwelling units in its tourist commercial district, beginning on the second floor above commercial space, as well as a maximum of 18 transient units per acre in its medium density multifamily district.
Higginbotham said the 60 units per acre are not enough to attract a "flag" hotel, which he defined as a chain-operated hotel similar to a Fairfield Inn, Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express.
"I have been told this kind of hotel would need a minimum of 80 units per acre to consider building here," he said.
How to get to that higher density is the problem the City Commission now faces.
The ideal amount to attract a major hotel is 125 units per acre, but Higginbotham said the Pinellas Planning Council would not approve that high a density for Madeira Beach.
What can be done, Higginbotham said, is to allow developers to buy or transfer development rights from other properties in the city to boost the number of rooms they could build, despite normal zoning restrictions.
He is considering "piggybacking" on a pending change to the county's development regulations that would expand the amount of transfer rights available to any one development.
The county already allows density units on government-owned or privately owned property to be transferred or sold to other properties where developers want to build buildings larger than local zoning regulations allow.
In March, the County Commission will consider expanding the amount of allowable increased development density from 20 percent to 25 percent.
If the county approves this change, a 1-acre Madeira Beach property zoned for 60 tourist units could transfer an additional 15 units from another property to bring its potential development to a maximum of 75 units.
To get up to the minimum 80 units per acre needed for a major hotel, Higginbotham told the commission the city would need to change its codes to increase its base allowable density and create a pool of development rights.
"That way, we could take development units from Archibald Park and South Beach Park and put them into the pool, which could be used as an incentive to encourage hotel room development," Higginbotham told the commission.
Both city-owned parks are zoned for hotel development, but they are restricted from such development, either by deed, charter or commission policy.
"We would never develop the parks, of course, but we can take properties we don't want developed and put their density into the pool," Higginbotham said. "Build it and they will come. Restaurants and shops will come."