Could the battle over the controversial Bezu condo tower in downtown St. Pete finally be nearing an end?

The developer of the Bezu/Blue Lotus tower has revised the plans and requested another hearing in yet another effort to win city approval.
Published February 21
Updated February 22

ST. PETERSBURG — In yet another effort to win approval of their contentious project, the developer of the Bezu/Blue Lotus condo tower proposed for downtown has revised the plans and requested another hearing.

The newest renderings of the 19-story, 18-unit tower show storefronts at ground level and three floors with what appear to be windows of the same size as those in the historic Flori de Leon apartments next door. At street level, the tower would blend in better with the Flori de Leon and nearby buildings than it did in previous renderings.

William Herrmann, a Flori de Leon resident who has led opposition to the tower, hinted that the battle over the project might finally be nearing an end.

"We are currently in settlement negotiations with the developer, as such I am unable to give any comment on the plans,'' he said Wednesday in an email. "All parties met Tuesday with an agreement for the developer and the city to provide clarification on one or more of the negotiation points. We are awaiting that information.''

"I remain confident that we are on the right path,'' Herrmann added.

The developer, the Driven Ziggy LLC, could not be reached for comment. City planning director Elizabeth Abernethy said it has requested a hearing before the City Council sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency although no date has been set.

Proposed for a vacant lot at Fourth Avenue N and First Street, the project has been mired in controversy ever since it was announced in September 2017. Residents of the Flori De Leon, a 1920s landmark once home to baseball greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and dozens of other opponents denounced the tower as too big for its small lot and totally out of scale with older, lower residences in the area.

The project, originally called Bezu and renamed Blue Lotus, has ping-ponged between city panels since late 2017. Both the Development Review Commission and the council rejected the original plans, which called for a tower nearly 300 feet tall with 29 units.

The developer scaled back the building to 180 feet with 20 units, winning approval from the review commission. Opponents unsuccessfully appealed that decision to the City Council but had better luck in December when the council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, failed to muster enough votes to approve the project.

At that point, the developer sued the city, bringing to three the total number of lawsuits involving the project.

Although he has not publicly spoken about the Bezu/Blue Lotus tower, Mayor Rick Kriseman has expressed concern that the city risks scaring away developers by not approving projects that meet city zoning and land use codes.

"We have a code, and as long as a project follows the code we have an obligation to permit that project to go forward,'' Kriseman said earlier this month before the council approved another controversial project, a 21-story apartment tower near the historic Mirror Lake Community Library.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

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