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Commission turmoil delays Sirata redevelopment vote

Mark Parker

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The Sirata Beach Resort's redevelopment will feature two new hotels, including a J.W. Marriott with a rooftop bar and restaurant. All images are screengrabs from city documents.

The St. Pete Beach City Commission filled its last vacancy a day before holding a special meeting on a massive, controversial redevelopment project.

However, the four newly appointed officials and Mayor Adrian Petrila punted a long-awaited hearing on the Sirata Beach Resort expansion that would add two hotels to the 13-acre property. Kentucky-based management company Columbia Sussex requested a continuation because every district representative recently resigned.

A letter dated Jan. 8 from Tampa attorney S. Elise Batsel stated that proceeding with Wednesday afternoon’s (Jan. 10) hearing “would be extremely prejudicial” and deprive her client of due process rights amid the municipal government’s “unprecedented issues.” City Attorney Andrew Dickman agreed.

“I think that the city would be open to a (legal) challenge if four of the five of you did not hear from the experts and also from the public,” Dickman said. “I would say it’s very important to continue this item.”

Mayor Adrian Petrila (center) was the only person on the dais present for the previous quasi-judicial hearing. Screengrab.

Columbia Sussex bought the property for $207 million in 2022. Representatives unveiled extensive redevelopment plans in April 2023.

If approved, Columbia Sussex would build a 10-story, 290-room J.W. Mariott Hotel to the north of the Sirata and an eight-story, 130-room Hampton Inn to its south. The firm also plans to demolish a six-story building with 156 units and upgrade the remaining facility, pool and restaurant.

In addition, Columbia Sussex seeks approval to operate a rooftop bar and restaurant with amplified music. The applicant pledged to strategically build two parking garages to mitigate traffic congestion, provide two public beach access points and create protective dunes.

However, hundreds of residents have voiced concerns over potential stormwater, traffic and pedestrian safety issues. Preventing St. Pete Beach from mirroring congested Clearwater Beach is a common refrain among project opponents.

City officials continued a December vote to Wednesday due to an overabundance of public speakers. “Since that time, we have four new commissioners … who were not seated then and did not hear the evidence that was presented,” Dickman noted.

He recommended that city officials essentially start the process from scratch. That requires readvertising a quasi-judicial public hearing, and another presentation from the applicant with an additional public forum.

An overhead view of the 13-acre project site.

Batsel, an attorney with Stearns Weaver Miller, asked to hold the meeting “as soon as possible” due to a state-mandated “shot clock.” Commissioner Nick Filtz asked how much time remained; “You’re past it,” Batsel succinctly replied.

City documents state that Columbia Sussex submitted its application in June 2023, and, under state statute, the “municipality has 180 days to approve or deny … through a quasi-judicial hearing from date of completeness.” A planning board approved the project in November.

Local attorney Jane Graham, representing the advocacy group Protect St. Pete Beach (PSPB), also requested a continuance, albeit for different reasons. She asserted that the commission was not lawfully seated – the basis for a PSPB lawsuit against the city.

Every district representative resigned before the new year rather than submitting new, more stringent financial disclosure forms. City officials implemented a last-minute, novel plan to stagger resignations and appoint rather than elect new commissioners.

Batsel said Graham and PSPB hoped to stall the project indefinitely at taxpayers’ expense. Batsel added that the significant delay could result in another lawsuit from Columbia Sussex.

“This commission – in our opinion, and we’ve done a lot of research – is duly seated,” Batsel said. “If you think that (Graham’s) position is correct, then the city is basically not going to be able to operate.

“There is not a distinction between running the budget, paying people, getting a legal contract for trash or quasi-judicial decisions. Those are decisions you have to make as a group from now until whenever this lawsuit is settled.”

The mayor and commission, relying solely on the city attorney and clerk’s guidance, unanimously agreed to postpone the hearing again until Feb. 21 at 4:30 p.m.

A beachfront view of the proposed redevelopment. Screengrab, city documents.

 

 

 

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