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Best Western planned for Fourth Street

(ran East, South editions)

A Best Western hotel is slated to replace the troubled Park Hotel on Fourth Street N.

The project, located at 6638 Fourth St. N, calls for a three-story, 32-room hotel. The developers, Ram Tampa Inc., have been working with city planners for nearly a year and have redesigned the project several times.

"There is great support in the community and administration for this project," City Planner John Hixenbaugh told the Environmental Development Commission Wednesday. "This has been a blighted area."

The Fossil Park Neighborhood Association supports the project.

"I would get down on my hands and knees and beg you folks to approve this," said area resident Howard Elkins. "It is a win-win-win situation."

The site plan approved by the commission places the hotel at the northeast corner of the property with its front on Fourth Street. Parking is in the front and rear of the site with access to Turner Street. A pool is planned in the front yard, and an existing residence will become a manager's residence.

The existing 12-room Park Motel, first opened in 1947 as the Penn Park Motel, will be demolished. City planners wrote in their report to the commission that the hotel "has been associated with certain suspect activities" as "prostitutes use the motel as a place of business and then direct customers to the rear of the property."

The vacation of a 15-foot alley in the block northwest of Fourth Street N and Northwest Lincoln Circle N will allow developers to consolidate the lot and eliminate "ongoing and documented criminal activity occurring in the alley," according to city planners.

Several years ago, the city temporarily closed the south end of Turner Street N just north of the alley in an attempt to address problems with prostitutes frequenting the area.

Hixenbaugh said the Best Western project "will eliminate the need for the street closure."

Because various utilities, including Florida Power, Verizon and Time Warner, have installed equipment in the alley, developers were required to agree to convey part of the alley as a utility easement and, if necessary, to pay for any costs associated with relocation of the utilities.

Each month the commission meets to consider proposed development projects that require variances or site plan approval, or requests for alley or right-of-way easements. If the requests are not too far out of line with city codes, the commission will recommend their approval to the City Council, provided that the developer includes substantial green space and other changes to improve the appearance of the project.

Among other items considered Wednesday were:

OUTDOOR EATING: In anticipation of a proposed ordinance that would allow most restaurants in St. Petersburg to develop outdoor eating areas, the commission approved a special exception, variances and site plan for such an area at Cafe Cibo, located at 8697 Fourth St. N.

"Outdoor eating is an amenity in St. Petersburg," said Hixenbaugh, who said the present code discourages this practice. "They should be permitted more freely and closer to the street to promote an active street and pedestrian environment." He said the pending statewide ban on smoking in restaurants will make such areas even more desirable.

At Cafe Cibo, the outdoor eating area will accommodate 25 diners and will be accessed from within the restaurant.

STORAGE YARD: A recreational vehicle storage yard will be located on a tract of land at the northwest base of the Tyrone Boulevard bridge over the Pinellas Trail at 71st Street. The commission approved a special exception, variance and site plan for the project. Several years ago, a proposed antique transportation museum and outdoor antique fair was denied, following opposition from the Jungle Terrace Neighborhood Association. The neighborhood group supports this new project. The site is designed to locate the RV storage area in the middle-eastern portion of the site, away from residences to the north. In addition, landscaping will buffer the site from the Pinellas Trail along the southern portion of the site.

DOCK ADDITION: Despite the loud and sometimes strident language of a neighbor, the commission refused to rescind its earlier approval of a dock built by Jeff and Donna Lagrou at their Bayou Grande Boulevard NE home. The matter came before the commission because the constructed dock did not match the approved site plan; it was smaller. The neighbor, Anthony Witlin, argued that the city had been "lied to" by its staff and that the dock and 33-foot boat now moored there should be removed. The commission disagreed and approved the revised site plan.

BOAT LIFT: The commission denied a 3-foot side setback variance for a dock on Coffee Pot Bayou, arguing that it violated the spirit of a dock ordinance recently approved by the City Council. The applicant, Dan Richardson, argued that his 20-foot wide water lot was too narrow to allow a boat lift to be installed on his dock without the variance.

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