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Beach Development Sparring

CLEARWATER-- The City Council approved a development agreement for a 202-room hotel on south Clearwater Beach Wednesday after a prolonged discussion about whether the project would hurt a powerful neighboring property owner's plans.

The vote to approve developer Uday Lele's 14-story hotel, "the Views," was 4 to 1. Vice Mayor Paul Gibson voted against the project, which now heads to the city Community Development Board for final approval.

Lele plans to tear down the six-story, 110-room Wyndham Garden hotel at 691 Gulfview Blvd. to make room for the new tower.

Developers JMC Communities and Ocean Properties own a vacant 4.3 acre parcel next to Lele's site. They asked the council to modify Lele's proposal, saying it would hurt their plans by limiting how much they could build under city code.

They also said "the Views" was ugly. Mayor George Cretekos said Wednesday that characterization of Lele's project was off the mark.

"We're not getting a box here," Cretekos said. "I don't think you can honestly say, 'Oh my God, who approved that?'"

The property next door was once intended as the site for a condo project called Marquesas, but JMC and Ocean Properties haven't yet announced their current plans for it.

Lele's hotel was the first to be reviewed by council under a new approval process for beach projects.

Before the change, the City Council had the final say on large-scale development on the beach. But an uproar among developers after a Hampton Inn proposed for south beach was defeated late led to a change.

Now, the council has a first look at projects during two public hearings. If they sign off, projects get final approval from the Community Development Board and council members don't have any more involvement unless the plans change significantly.