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Treasure Island resort project at John's Pass delayed

TREASURE ISLAND — A decision on a controversial tourist and commercial redevelopment at John's Pass won't happen for at least another month.

In the meantime, developers and Sunshine Beach residents will meet Friday to discuss concerns over a proposed gulf front restaurant, bar and beach cabana resort that most are convinced will turn the north end of the island city into a disruptive attraction.

Thursday, the city's Planning and Zoning Board postponed the second part of a public hearing on the Rock House Grille and Cabanas proposal until its April 21 meeting. A special exception is needed for the 1-acre project.

Project spokesman Jack Bodziak asked for the delay so that he could meet with neighborhood residents "to help answer questions and defuse issues."

He plans to appear at the Sunshine Beach Civic Association's special meeting at 2 p.m. Friday, in the Garden Room of the city Community Center.

"We will have answers and expert witnesses for everything they are concerned about," said Bodziak. "Then it will be up to the board to make a judgment for the best interests of the community and not just for a small group that appears to be against anything except single-family homes."

Bodziak says the property is "unique" because it has physical access under the new bridge allowing people to walk from the beach to the Gators complex on the southeast side of John's Pass.

That property, also owned by Rice Family Holdings, is slated for redevelopment as an updated tourist, family entertainment and marina complex. Plans have not yet been submitted to the city.

Among Sunshine Beach residents' concerns, according to Ernie George, the president of the civic association, is the financial stability of the property owner — Rice Family Holdings — and their joint venture partner.

"We want a CPA-certified complete financial statement for each and every owner," George said.

Dr. Robert A. Baker, 67, a dentist from Kalamazoo, Mich., is providing the $15 million investment and will become the controlling partner in a new holding company overseeing the entire redevelopment, Bodziak said.

Baker owns the property where On the Rocks Bar and Grill, at 213 Gulf Blvd., sits in Indian Rocks Beach, as well as a horse farm in Ocala and other property in Orlando, according to Bodziak.

George said nearly 30 of the association's estimated 80 members met informally last week and voted "4-to-1" against the Rock House project.

If the city approves the Rock House Grille and Cabanas project, George said Sunshine Beach residents want the property cleaned up daily and live music banned after 8:45 p.m. on weekdays and after 10 p.m. on weekends.

Most of the complaints about the project have come from Sunshine Beach homeowners on the east side of Gulf Boulevard, across the street from the proposed project.

Sunshine Beach includes homes and businesses on both sides of the boulevard between 116th Avenue and John's Pass. Many of the homes are beach bungalows dating back to the 1950s and earlier.

Meanwhile, City Attorney Maura Kiefer responded to a controversy over her interpretation of the city's parking requirements for the project.

"My office has not arrived at any conclusions or opinions regarding the sufficiency or not of the applicant's submissions with respect to parking or any other issue," she said Friday.

Kiefer said that all "gross usable indoor and outdoor area" used by a business must be considered when computing the number of parking spaces required for the project — including anywhere patrons might sit, eat or drink, whether on the beach or around a planned wading pool and children's splash pool.

"If someone lays a towel down or chair down or stands in water and is allowed to take a drink out there, that would come under the (parking) code," Kiefer told the board.

City Planner Lynn Rosetti disputed Kiefer's interpretation, arguing that the city has never required parking spaces for outside business-related activities.

"I wrote the definition in the code, and it was not my intent to include the outdoor area of a property in parking calculations," Rosetti told the board.

The site plans reviewed by the planning staff and presented to the board only included parking spaces for patrons using the interior restaurant and bar and the outside covered cabanas.

Bodziak told the board that adequate parking could be provided at a planned 450-space lot on the east side of Gulf Boulevard near Gators.

He said he is concerned about Kiefer's interpretation of the zoning code and intends to "research further some of the legal interpretations presented by the city attorney."

Treasure Island resort project at John's Pass delayed 03/26/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 26, 2011 4:31am]
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