ST. PETE BEACH — The Coconut Inn's bid to rebuild on two lots in Pass-a-Grille has been rejected.
The Planning Board, which acts in an advisory role to the City Commission, voted down Joe Caruso's request Tuesday for a land use change that would have allowed his hotel property to be rezoned from residential to Traditional Hotel District.
That designation would have allowed the grandfathered hotel to rebuild at any time, not just after a hurricane or other catastrophic loss.
In a 3-1 vote (only Chairman Will Jacoby supported Caruso), the board said changing the hotel's land use from residential to resort would harm the neighborhood.
City commissioners will have the last word, probably in May, when they take up Caruso's land use and rezoning request.
Several residents, as well as City Commissioner Bev Garnett and Historic Preservation Board Chairman Melinda Pletcher, expressed concerns.
"I am not here to speak for or against the plan," Garnett said as she described what she called the predominantly residential character of the neighborhood, but "even the slightest change has a large impact on the community."
Pletcher said Caruso should have asked for the THD designation on just the southernmost of his two lots.
A second rear lot, now vacant, extends to 12th Avenue. The Coconut Inn is at 113 11th Ave.
"Today it's my home. Tomorrow it may be yours," said Mary Fernandez, whose home is adjacent to the Coconut Inn's rear lot.
She and her husband said they feared that if the land use and rezoning were approved by the board, Caruso could rebuild using both lots.
Board member Sandie Lyman scolded both sides just before she voted against Caruso's request.
"I agree the hotel needs to stay the hotel and the lot needs to stay residential, but everybody needs to man up and get along," Lyman said.
The commission denied the same request last year amid strong opposition from local residents. Since then, the commission toughened the THD zoning requirements to limit redevelopment.
"The whole town is mixed with tourism and residential and we have to coexist," Caruso told the board. "To wish these properties to go away is not going to make them disappear."