ST. PETE BEACH — The controversial rezoning of Pass-a-Grille's Coconut Inn, necessary to allow the owner to voluntarily rebuild, will highlight the City Commission meeting Tuesday.
Some residents fear that the 84-year-old inn will be demolished and replaced by a development that is not in character with the residential neighborhood.
A sympathetic commission postponed a decision on the issue last month to buy more time to resolve potential conflicts with its own zoning rules, to reconcile fostering hotel development with protecting residential neighborhoods, and to avoid lawsuits threatened by both sides.
Coconut Inn owner Joe Caruso hopes to alleviate residential fears and commission concerns by agreeing to limit his voluntary redevelopment rights.
In a letter sent to the city last week, Caruso's lawyer stipulated that in exchange for being granted Traditional Hotel District zoning, Caruso would agree to extensive conditions:
• Prohibit any voluntary redevelopment for five years, and permanently prohibit any variance requests to increase the height or density on the property.
• Limit the building height generally to 32 feet.
• Ban any rooftop deck and restrict tourist lodging to two levels over parking.
• Require 20-foot setbacks on both 11th and 12th avenues and residential side yard setbacks.
• Restrict any ancillary use only for guests and ban uses that are not "customary" for other small inns in Pass-a-Grille.
• Limit the number of any newly developed rental units to five on Lot 11.
In the case the inn is destroyed or severely damaged by a hurricane, fire or other "catastrophic event," all bets are off, however. In that case, Caruso is not willing to give up development rights normal for Traditional Hotel District zoning affecting height, density or setbacks or his ability to seek a variance.
The property is at 113 11th Ave. on a residential side street just east of Gulf Way and the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1998, the city specifically designated the Coconut Inn as an eligible property when it amended the hotel district. The action was taken to ensure that operating small tourist lodgings could rebuild at any time and not just after a hurricane.
Two members of the city's Historic Board are particularly opposed to Caruso's request.
"The amended THD inclusion of the Leroy/Coconut Inn was absolutely bad legislation and poor planning," board chairman Melinda Pletcher said in an e-mail to the entire commission.
In another e-mail, former Commissioner Linda Chaney disagreed, arguing that the city created the hotel district zoning to "preserve the character of PAG's eclectic mix of small hotels, shops and homes."
Amy Loughery, a member of the Historic Board, also wrote to the commission. "The changes being asked for will adversely impact the surrounding residents and the quality of life they have enjoyed and invested in," she said.
Since Caruso purchased the 84-year-old inn a year ago, he has completely refurbished it, to widespread praise from many of the same residents who now oppose the rezoning.