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Developers push scaled-back version of controversial Bezu condo tower in St. Pete

Developers of Bezu, a condo tower in downtown St. Petersburg, have cut the height from 300 to 180 feet to be more compatible with the historic Flori de Leon next door. [Rendering by Architectonics as submitted to the City of St. Petersburg]
Published Jun. 5, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG —Bezu is back.

Four months after the St. Petersburg City Council rejected plans for the 23-story downtown condo tower, developers are seeking approval of a scaled-down version that they say would be more compatible with the historic Flori de Leon apartments next door.

But Flori residents and other opponents are expected to turn out in force again Wednesday when the proposal goes before the city's Development Review Commission, which said "no" to the Bezu initially.

"Son of Bezu would still loom over the surrounding neighborhood," the historic preservation group Preserve the 'Burg said in a recent "call to action" to opponents. "It is as much out of place as the first proposal."

RELATED COVERAGE: St. Pete City Council says no go for 23-story Bezu condo tower

The original plan called for a 300-foot high building that would have dwarfed the 75-foot-high Flori de Leon, built in the 1920s and once home to baseball greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The new plan cuts Bezu's height to 180 feet, reduces the number of units from 29 to 20 and incorporates design features on the base of the tower more in keeping with the Flori's Mediterranean Revival style.

The scaled-down Bezu also would have greater setbacks and provide a "beautiful Charleston-like courtyard" to be shared by the tower and the Flori de Leon, architect Joseph Lacki wrote to city staffers.

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Saying the revision meets code requirements, the staff was poised to give final approval of Bezu on May 11. However, a resident of the Flori de Leon, William Herrmann, and several others filed an appeal that forces the matter to go before the review commission again. No matter which way the commission votes, the decision could be appealed to the city council.

Herrmann said Monday that nearby residents have not received legal notice of Wednesday's meeting and that the design of the facade has changed in recent days, losing some of the architectural features of the Flori De Leon. That has left opponents with little time to address the apparent modifications, he said.

Among other issues cited in Herrmann's initial was that the Bezu at 100 Fourth Avenue N "lacks harmony with adjacent development."

While acknowledging Bezu would be much larger than the Flori de Leon, Derek S. Kilborn of the city's urban planning and historic division said the tower's new design shows sensitivity to the neighborhood.

"The dynamic nature of downtown centers means they are constantly evolving," Kilborn said in a memo. "This is true even for the subject block where in 1926, demand for new residential housing resulted in construction of the Flori de Leon. At the time of its construction, this seven-story masonry building stood in contrast to the one- and two-story wood-frame structures surrounding it, a demonstration of timeless conflicts between different period of development in the downtown center."

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

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