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John’s Pass Village density increase gains approval

Mark Parker



Madeira Beach City Commissioners approved designating the John's Pass Village as an activity center Wednesday night. Photo: City of Madeira Beach.

Despite the objections of several residents who believe changes will render the tourist destination’s “village” moniker a misnomer, a proposed John’s Pass activity center is moving forward.

Following a nearly three-hour debate, Madeira Beach City Commissioners voted 3-2 Wednesday night to authorize an activity center at the 27-acre John’s Pass Village. That designation allows for increased density and supports walkability in a mixed-use area.

At the onset of the meeting, Commissioner David Tagliarini, who voted no, said he solicited resident input on the proposal. Although he only emailed 60 people on his distribution list, 110 replied – with 105 opposed to the changes. He unsuccessfully sought to shelve the vote.

Commissioner Doug Andrews said the recent public outcry was due to people looking too far into the matter and falsely assuming local officials will bulldoze the village and turn it into a hotel enclave.

“John’s Pass is the reason people come here (Madeira Beach),” said Andrews. “That would be like going into Magic Kingdom and bulldozing over the castle, Space Mountain and the teacups, building hotels there, and expecting people to still come.”

Resident William Gay, who spoke in opposition to the zoning changes, commissioned a report from land use expert Charles Gauthier. Gauthier stated that the activity center designation would increase residential and lodging density by 11% and 31%, respectively.

However, David Healey, a city consultant that helped create the plan, pushed back on the report. He called Gauthier’s findings opinionated and based on skewed data.

Healey said Gauthier’s estimates of adding 400 lodging units and over a million square feet of floor area to an already developed site is “simply unrealistic, and I think it’s misleading.”

“It’s not going to allow that to happen,” said Healey.

Healey also took umbrage with claims that zoning changes will increase environmental risks, as John’s Pass Village sits in a coastal high-hazard area. He said the new plan would allow current property owners to improve resiliency and for future developers to enhance sustainability efforts.

“He (Gauthier) says – and I think very cavalierly and without any supporting documentation or analysis – he totally dismisses the need to make any changes in order to facilitate revitalization, improvement and redevelopment,” said Healy. “It’s just not factual.”

Many residents expressed concern that zoning changes would lead to overdevelopment, while officials and business owners believe it would allow for revitalization and rebuilding efforts. Photo by Cindy Floyd.

The proposal still requires approval from Pinellas County Commissioners and Forward Pinellas, the local planning agency. Healey and others noted the plan could change over time.

John’s Pass Village – one of Pinellas County’s most popular tourist destinations – is well known for a boardwalk lined with fishing charters and excursion businesses, restaurants and small shops selling trinkets and souvenirs.

The activity center designation would increase allowable density throughout most of its 27 acres and does not include height limits. While many residents believe that would lead to the overdevelopment of an area meant to serve as a “coastal village,” officials said they would incorporate further restrictions as part of a zoning process for the initiative’s six “character districts.”

Resident Bonnie Lipa expressed her belief that commissioners predetermined they would move the plan forward before the meeting. Despite listening closely to the extensive presentation, Lipa said she still had “no idea of what’s going to end up at John’s Pass. And the reason is, there are too many unknowns and variables.”

Mayor Kevin Hendricks replied that he doesn’t foresee significant changes to the village for years into the future. He called the proposal a framework to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

Madeira Beach officials updated the city’s comprehensive plan in 2008, which allowed for more density. However, zoning now exceeds county regulations, which could prevent property owners from rebuilding to current standards in the event of a catastrophe.

Hendricks told Lipa that the changes would allow owners to rebuild their property but would not permit a developer to “come in and build a big hotel down in the middle of John’s Pass or anything like that.” He also relayed his excitement to see Madeira Beach undergoing revitalization after moving to the community 37 years ago.

“I live here too,” said Hendricks. “And so do the rest of these commissioners. Do you think I want my own town destroyed?”

Hendricks, Andrews and Commissioner Ray Kerr voted to move the initiative forward. Tagliarini and Commissioner Dave Hutson voted no.


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