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Massive beach resort redevelopment narrowly passes

Mark Parker

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After three public hearings and roughly 26 hours of debate, a beachfront redevelopment project that critics and advocates agree will alter St. Pete Beach’s trajectory is moving forward.

St. Pete Beach City Commissioners approved controversial plans for the 13-acre Sirata Beach Resort property at around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. A long-awaited 3-2 vote followed six hours of deliberations.

Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex can now build two new hotels at the site, including a 10-story J.W. Marriott, while upgrading the existing resort. Mayor Adrian Petrila, a vocal opponent, voted against the project.

“The concerns that our residents have listed, the concerns that were identified by staff, the concerns that any of us looking at this project have seen – almost none of them have any resolution,” Petrila said. “And so, if there’s no resolution, how can we say, ‘Move forward with this project.’”

Many concerns stemmed from residents at the neighboring Seamark Condominiums.

However, city staff approved the project with several conditions – a focal point of Tuesday’s meeting. Commissioner Karen Marriott said disregarding their recommendations could create hiring challenges in a city “missing a lot of key positions.”

She called the developer’s agreeing to sign public easements “priceless.” Mariott also believes disallowing the project would lead other firms to build smaller developments and avoid the conditional use process.

Marriott noted Petrila rhetorically asked how a “reasonable person” on the dais would respond to the proposal. “I think we are all reasonable people sitting in these chairs,” Mariott said. “The four of us were reasonable people sitting out there (public seating) just a few months ago.

“Not a single person who lives adjacent to that property bought their property when there wasn’t a hotel there.”

The commission discussed over 40 proposed building conditions. Many addressed concerns from residents at the adjacent Seamark Condominiums.

Those included potential interference to the Seamark’s rooftop cellular antennae, an allegedly critical revenue source, and a wind study. The commission eventually excluded both from the use agreement.

Petrila noted residents also expressed height, light, noise, compatibility and traffic concerns. He said Columbia Sussex made no attempts to minimize those impacts.

“You’ve actually created a situation where you’ve made it far worse for the neighboring property than what it is currently – and what it could be,” Petrila added. “Every time somebody from here says too much, what’s the response? Well, that’s too bad.”

Columbia Sussex voluntarily agreed to give the city $500,000 for transportation projects. The firm doubled the required setbacks between the resort and neighboring condominiums.

The developers agreed to incorporate community and city feedback into design aspects. Columbia Sussex will also provide two public access points, restore protective dunes, fund its section of the city’s planned beachfront boardwalk and accommodate renourishment projects.

A beachfront view of the redevelopment project.

Commissioner Richard Lorenzen said many concerns stemmed from emotion, which also “has its place.” He noted that many residents and small business owners welcome the project but keep their opinions guarded for fear of alienation.

Lorenzen said residents account for 80% of St. Pete Beach’s tax base, and increasing commercial revenues is a stated goal. “That’s the reason we have the Large Resort Development District,” he said.

“I think it’s game over already for traffic,” Lorenzen added. “I mean, St. Pete is exploding. Everywhere we look, there’s apartment buildings going up. And where are they all going to … the beach? They’re all coming here.”

Tuesday’s hearing marked the latest chapter in a twisting saga. Columbia Sussex bought the beachfront resort for $207 million in 2022 and unveiled extensive redevelopment plans in April 2023.

After several community and committee meetings, the previous commission punted a Dec. 5 vote when that meeting ran late into the night. City officials then agreed to postpone a Jan. 10 hearing after every commissioner, excluding the mayor, abruptly resigned before new financial reporting laws took effect.

The recently and controversially appointed commissioners – now hearing the matter for the first time – listened to expert testimony and public concerns for over 10 hours in a quasi-judicial hearing that began Feb. 20 and ended at 2 a.m. the next morning. At Petrila’s behest, they agreed to defer voting until Tuesday.

A Columbia Sussex attorney asked Petrila to recuse himself at the Feb. 20 meeting onset due to alleged bias. Petrila later told the development team they could skip Tuesday’s deliberations since “no one’s going to be asking you questions.” They attended, and city queries came within the first hour.

Columbia Sussex will build a 290-key Marriott with a rooftop bar and restaurant to the Sirata’s north and an eight-story, 130-room Hampton Inn to its south. The firm plans to demolish a six-story, 156-unit building and upgrade the remaining resort, pool and restaurant.

Commissioners Lorenzen, Marriott and Betty Rzewnicki approved the project. Petrila and Commissioner Nick Filtz dissented.

 

 

 

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    Cyril Aams

    February 29, 2024at9:20 pm

    This is so wrong for st pete beach. We will be in line for over an hour to cross the bridge. It took me 11 min to go 4 blocks on gulf blvd today. When the bridge is up we will wait forever. We will have sewer problems and water shortages. Wait in line for dinner much longer. It ruins our wonderful community.

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