ST. PETE BEACH — The nearly two-year debate over how Pass-a-Grille hotels, and in particular the Coconut Inn, should be allowed to redevelop is far from over.
On Feb. 22, the City Commission approved more restrictive regulations governing the Traditional Hotel District (THD).
Only Commissioner Bev Garnett, who represents Pass-a-Grille, voted against the changes because, she said, she couldn't "abide" allowing spas.
"We have to respect the residents who have the right to quiet enjoyment of their property," said Garnett.
Within days of the commission vote, Coconut Inn owner Joe Caruso reactivated his applications for a land use change and THD designation for his hotel, at 113 11th Ave.
"I don't want to rebuild, I just want to protect my property rights," Caruso said.
He made identical applications in mid 2009. Both were recommended for approval by the planning commission.
That triggered an emotional and angry response from nearby Pass-a-Grille residents who object to any future redevelopment that would be disruptive to the neighborhood.
Other residents were opposed because, they said, a redeveloped hotel might include a restaurant or nightclub.
The debate continued for months, but in January 2010 the City Commission sharply rejected Caruso's application for a change in land use that would have made him eligible for THD zoning.
Several months later when it became clear Caruso would resubmit his applications, the commission decided to revisit its THD regulations to ensure that the kind of development feared by nearby residents would not occur.
The new THD rules now in place affect any existing hotel located south of 15th Avenue, including the Coconut Inn, that were licensed to operate as of Dec. 31, 2010.
Currently, there are nine primary hotels in Pass-a-Grille that rent rooms to transient guests.
The Gulf Way Inn and the Sable Palms Inn already have THD zoning, but so far have not submitted rebuilding plans to the city.
Other currently operating hotels in Pass-a-Grille include the Coconut Inn, Inn on the Beach, Castle Hotel, Island's Inn Resort, the Fairhaven Estate Bed and Breakfast, the Pass-a-Grille Beach Hotel and the Keystone Hotel.
Originally, THD zoning allowed grandfathered, nonconforming Pass-a-Grille hotels to become legally zoned structures that can rebuild or renovate at any time.
That would still be true under the revised rules.
But swimming pools or large spas are now banned from redevelopment.
The only water recreation that would be allowed are small spas no larger than 8-feet square that must be screened from adjacent properties.
The new rules also allow gazebos, fountains, decks and patios, and trellises.
Restaurants, bars and cocktail lounges are prohibited in THD hotels. Redeveloped hotels can only exceed the original square footage by about 5 percent in order to meet building code requirements.
Caruso's application for land use change to Residential High with Tourist Facility Overlay and for THD zoning will be considered first by the city's Planning Commission at its March 15 meeting.
The earliest the City Commission would vote on the applications will be at its April 12 meeting.
If the applications are approved on first reading, the land use change must be reviewed by the state Department of Community Affairs before it can be finally approved by the commission. That process can take several months.
Caruso is seeking the changes for both the front and back lots, which are considered one zoning lot, according to Karl Holley, the city's community development director.