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St. Pete Beach denies Coconut Inn rezoning request

ST. PETE BEACH — After redevelopment negotiations broke down between residents and the owner of the Coconut Inn in Pass-a-Grille, the commission agreed with the residents Tuesday.

That decision will likely lead to yet another lawsuit against the city — an outcome predicted months ago by the city's attorneys.

Before the vote, City Attorney Mike Davis cautioned commission members to make their decision based on evidence, not on whether residents "like it or not."

When asked Friday whether he planned to sue, Coconut Inn owner Joe Caruso responded: "I can't do it fast enough."

In two votes Tuesday to change the Coconut Inn's land-use designation and zoning, the commission denied Caruso's request to be included in the city's Traditional Hotel District.

At issue is whether the inn at 113 11th Ave., zoned residential, could be rebuilt at any time and whether the new structure could use some of a vacant back lot that intrudes into a residential area.

Caruso purchased the former Leroy Hotel in 2008, refurbished it and reopened it as tourist lodging. It has since been featured in national magazines.

The commission first rejected Caruso's request in January 2010 when the proposed rezoning prompted strong opposition from nearby residents.

The commission delayed consideration of Caruso's renewed request in May to allow private negotiations with neighbors to try to reach a development agreement for the inn.

During the debate, Commissioner Bev Garnett said she was "bothered" by the amount of time the failed negotiations between attorneys for Caruso and the residents took.

She said the neighbors conceded several points but that Caruso "didn't move at all."

Caruso insisted Friday that he made a number of concessions both to the city and to residents.

During the negotiations, Commissioner Marvin Shavlan e-mailed Ron Holehouse, whose home is just across the street from the Coconut Inn's back lot, with a proposal to resolve differences between Caruso and his neighbors.

Shavlan copied the e-mail to the entire commission and City Manager Mike Bonfield.

Such communications with other commissioners usually are not permitted under the state's Sunshine Law, a fact the City Attorney Mike Davis reiterated to the commission Tuesday during a workshop before the regular meeting.

During Tuesday's debate, commissioners also listed the residents they spoke to privately. None said they had spoken recently with Caruso.

On Friday, an angry Caruso said Garnett's failure to speak with him was "disgusting."

Garnett represents Pass-a-Grille's residents and business owners, including the Coconut Inn.

"This has been a terrible, terrible event to happen in our quiet little community," Garnett said Tuesday.

"This has been 2 1/2 years of neighbor against neighbor. It has just been difficult on everybody."

St. Pete Beach denies Coconut Inn rezoning request 08/27/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 26, 2011 4:05pm]
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