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PARED WESTIN PLAN STILL IRRITATES OLD NORTHEAST

City staffers advise the EDC to approve the 23-story hotel-condo building.

Shrunk by a third and with limits on hours and noise, the proposed Westin Hotel on Fifth Avenue N is still facing neighborhood opposition.

"We've made 10 or 12 different concessions most people never make, and yet they're still opposed to us," said Ron Weaver, attorney for developer Fuel Group International's 23-story hotel and condominium project at First Avenue.

Weaver has been negotiating with attorneys for the Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Association, whose members live just north of the project. He has agreed to reduce hours for the restaurant, limit outdoor music, forbid gambling and adjust other facets of the project to meet neighbors' demands.

Nicole Durkin is representing the neighborhood group on the issue. "They've made concessions, but there are too many conditions and exceptions," she said. "I don't know what else to do but be in opposition."

On Wednesday the project goes before the Environmental Development Commission, the same body that denied a larger version that Fuel Group put forth in May. The developer appealed that denial, but withdrew its appeal when it submitted the resized proposal for the ship-shaped building.

At the initial EDC hearing, neighbors complained about the size of the building and the intensity of activity so close to their residential area. The city staff had recommended approval of the original 33-story plan with 260 hotel rooms and 111 condos as part of half a million square feet of floor space. This time, the staff recommends approval of what are now 154 hotel rooms and 60 condos in 350,000 square feet.

Durkin had asked Weaver for changes in exchange for neighbors' support. She asked that restaurant hours be limited, that there be no short-term condo rentals, no outdoor music and that parking be controlled. She also asked for the gambling ban, the removal of a ground-level pool, and for a 60-foot building setback above 50 feet in the air on the west side of the property. Weaver granted some of those wishes and parts of others in stages over the last month, but said he can't give everything away.

Weaver said the 292 parking spaces in the building far exceed city requirements. He said it's not possible to limit owners' rights about rental terms, restaurants have to have reasonable hours for a hotel, and outdoor music was a natural part of a place that would host parties. He leaned the neighbors' way on some issues but couldn't on others.

Weaver said the developer couldn't increase its western setback without upsetting the structure and having to cram in things like parking ramps and elevators. He said Fuel Group could change the ground-level pool, but the city asked him to keep it.

Neighbors are still concerned about traffic and activity.

"If this was a boutique hotel, that would be acceptable," said Tim Clemmons, who lives a block from the site, but is also the developer of the nearly completed seven-story condo building next door. "This area isn't intended for full-service hotels."

The zoning for the site allows Fuel Group's wishes, but the EDC denied the earlier plan on the argument that its mass and scale were incompatible with the neighborhood.

Clemmons said that's still the case and the EDC is within its rights to make such a subjective judgment, but Weaver said courts don't agree. He pointed to a Tampa case in May when the city denied a condo tower on Bayshore Boulevard, only to have two courts reverse the decision.

Durkin said her clients could support the project if it were in the core.

"It's still in the wrong place," she said. "All the conditions and concessions and caveats aren't going to make it the right place."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.

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