Development proposals divide Madeira Beach

Published March 24, 2016

MADEIRA BEACH — Strong opposition is brewing to two proposed hotel-condominium-marina developments that could reshape the city's downtown.

Despite the objections of many in an overflow crowd at last week's marathon five-hour meeting, the City Commission, with little discussion, approved rezoning the first of the two projects in a 4-1 vote.

A final vote for the 4.59-acre Holton project, on the southwest side of the Tom Stuart Causeway bridge, is required before an official planned development agreement can be negotiated and approved.

Both actions are scheduled to happen at the commission's April 12 meeting. This is the last time residents opposed to the project will be able to influence the decision, barring filing a legal action.

The development agreement would dictate the maximum height and density of the project as well as imposing other requirements that would have to be met in a final site plan. The project also will need approvals from the county, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the state Department of Transportation before proceeding.

That permitting process could take up to a year before any construction could begin, according City Manager Shane Crawford.

"There is plenty of support for these projects. They are just not showing up at our meetings," he said, adding, "Sure, there will be more people and a couple of taller buildings. We already have major traffic."

Crawford also confirmed that no city easements need to be vacated and that the voter rejection of a referendum to allow the commission to sell or vacate city-owned land has no effect on the project.

"It breaks my heart this type of thing can divide a community, but I knew this day would come when we would have redevelopment. It is exciting to be a part of reinventing Madeira Beach," he said.

The second redevelopment project, proposed by developer Bill Karns, involves the city's downtown core and business triangle bounded by 150th Avenue and Madeira Way. Two 11-story hotels, two condominium buildings and a marina are planned there.

The city's planning commission and the City Commission still have to vote before the Karns project can go forward. The planning commission is slated to consider the project at its April 29 meeting, and final action by the City Commission is not expected until May.

Mayor Travis Palladeno said Tuesday that he is confident 150th Avenue can handle traffic generated by both projects.

"We used to have a 100-room Holiday Inn, and it was a big loss to the city," Palladeno said. "These projects will bring jobs and tourist dollars back to our city. I get that people are concerned. I am listening, but there is a majority out there who are for it, who want tourism back."

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The Holton property is the vacant site of the former Leverock's restaurant, and operates only as a commercial fishing marina.

"I am bitter and hostile. Some days, I just want to cry," Vice Mayor Elaine Poe, who cast the only dissenting vote on the Holton property project, said Tuesday.

She objected to what she said were errors in the written information presented to the commission.

She and others opposing the Holton project's density fear traffic will overwhelm the capacity of 150th Avenue, the main route into and out of the island city.

She also echoed the sentiment of more than a few residents speaking at last week's meeting that the mayor and other commissioners could be ousted at the ballot box in the next election.

"The mayor has forgotten who elected him," she said.

Opposition to the Holton project is growing despite a slight scaling back of the project by its developer.

Originally, the project called for buildings of up to 10 stories and 117 feet tall. That has now been reduced to no more than eight stories and 90 feet tall for the tallest hotel. The total number of hotel rooms also has been reduced from 325 to 272 units.

Poe confirmed that a group of residents is planning to take either or both of the proposed projects to court if the commission approves them.

"When the commission refuses to listen to residents, the only thing they can expect is legal action," said Ken Weiss, who with Tim Webber, represented residents who filed a court action against the charter referendum. Because the referendum failed to pass, that action is now moot.