Vote on long-delayed Schooner Resort in Madeira Beach stalled again

The city failed to advertise the City Commission’s final hearing on the project. And not all residents welcome this proposed development.
A rendering of the proposed Schooner Resort, a nine-story, 56-room hotel planned along Gulf Boulevard on the site of the current Schooner hotel.
A rendering of the proposed Schooner Resort, a nine-story, 56-room hotel planned along Gulf Boulevard on the site of the current Schooner hotel. [ City of Madeira Beach ]
Published June 8, 2021|Updated June 8, 2021

MADEIRA BEACH — The long-delayed redevelopment of the Schooner Hotel hit another snag this week because city officials failed to advertise the project’s final rezoning hearing to the public.

Community Development Director Linda Portal announced the error at the planning commission meeting on Monday, two days before the City Commission was scheduled to hold the second rezoning hearing and vote on the development agreement. The commission will now hear the items in July so residents can be properly noticed.

“No one is thrilled but it is what it is,” said Jeff Beggins, who is developing the project with his father, Jim Beggins, and partner Kevin Bowden. “Rather than take any risk, we want to do it right.”

The Schooner Resort is proposed as a nine-story, 56-room hotel with a second-floor restaurant and rooftop bar nestled among a row of condominiums on the west side of Gulf Boulevard. It would become the tallest hotel in this small beach city long divided by debates over development.

It has garnered support from residents eager to see the existing hotel, a cluster of dilapidated two-story buildings, be redeveloped. But since the first iteration of the project was proposed in 2019, it also has attracted pushback from those worried that development is changing the city’s character.

In June 2020, Bowden also opened the five-story, 125-room Cambria Hotel on Madeira Way, a project praised for its quality but noted by some as a sign of the changing vibe in Madeira Beach.

“Nothing against commercialized beaches but I bought a house in sleepy little beach town Madeira Beach, not Miami,” resident Eric Cabrera said regarding the Cambria and proposed Schooner Resort. “It’s like they’re trying to turn this town into something it’s not.”

Jeff Beggins, also a Madeira Beach resident, said the development team changed the Schooner design from it’s 2019 concept to better suit the city and to be more financially feasible. The original rezoning application proposed a five-story, 40-unit hotel on the beachfront side of Gulf Boulevard and a two-story building across the street with 16 hotel suites and retail space connected by an elevated pedestrian bridge.

After initial approval in February 2019, the second rezoning hearing was postponed while the city reworked its ordinance for planned developments, the designation that the Schooner developers are requesting.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, delaying the project further. The developers revised the concept to the single nine-story hotel on the west side of Gulf Boulevard, now a $30 million project, and had to restart the approval process. The commission granted initial approval for the rezoning in April with no residents appearing to oppose it.

“I care a lot about this town and love it,” Beggins said. “I don’t want to live in a Clearwater Beach or Miami Beach either, and it’s not.”

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Beggins said the developers plan to build a three-level parking structure with retail on the vacant lot across the street from the hotel. City code requires them to provide 56 parking spaces, one for each hotel unit. Because the restaurant being built in the hotel’s second floor is “ancillary,” meaning it won’t be advertised to the public as a standalone attraction, Beggins said there is no parking required.

However Beggins said the project will have 120 spaces between the parking structure and surface parking under the hotel.

But the development agreement commissioners were scheduled to vote on Wednesday did not specify the number of parking spaces to be provided. It stated that the hotel would be built in the first phase and a parking deck would be built in an optional second phase.

City attorney Tom Trask said on Tuesday that the development agreement is being revised to specify that all construction will be completed in one phase.

“Supply and demand is a real law that we understand and we’re not going to build a hotel and rooftop where we don’t have parking for people to come and enjoy it,” Beggins said.

The lack of documented specifics about parking for the hotel and restaurant is a top concern for retiree Bill Gay, a resident who has successfully challenged the city at least three times in court over procedural errors.

The city’s ordinance for planned developments requires projects to “reflect the average intensity, height and massing of the development pattern on surrounding property of similar zoning use.”

Gay said while there are condos in the city that are up to 12 stories, the buildings immediately surrounding the Schooner site are three to five stories, making a nine-story hotel out of place.

“We like the environment in Madeira Beach and we think it’s being overrun with hotels,” Gay said. “I believe local governments should follow the local ordinances in approving projects.”

Natalie Gallays, president of the Arie Dam Condominiums, a five-story building directly north of the Schooner property, sees the next-door project as progress. She said the developers resolved most of Arie Dam’s initial concerns, like reconfiguring the originally rectangular-shaped Schooner Resort into an L-shape, so Aire Dam residents looking south see a pool deck instead of a wall.

“I think it’s all positive because that little section of Madeira Beach was derelict and they are injecting a lot of funds into it,” Gallays said.