Thursday, September 25, 2008

Conch House plan tabled

Conch House plan tabled

Developer to return Oct. 27 with changes

Publication Date: 09/23/08

St. Augustine City Commissioners tabled the Conch House redevelopment project after hours of discussion and public comment.

Some commissioners are concerned the proposed project's convention center will bring too much noise and disrupt Davis Shores, the neighborhood that surrounds the Conch House. They also worried about building heights and asked the developer to come back to the commission on Oct. 27 with changes.

Owner David Ponce wanted the board to grant him a Planned Unit Development for a trio of three-story condominium buildings of 32, 20 and 12 rooms staggered along Comares Avenue. The middle one will serve as both a condo and a hotel. The project also would include renovating the existing Conch House Restaurant and adding a new marina restaurant and a bar with 177 seats.

The commission was split on the project, with Mayor Joe Boles and Commissioner Susan Burk strongly opposing the project. Commissioner George Gardner had some problems with the development, and Commissioners Errol Jones and Don Crichlow were for the structure.

About seven people spoke at the project's public hearing, with almost of all of them against it. They were all Davis Shores residents.

Burk said the convention center, which would be used for parties such as weddings, would not be an improvement from Reggae Sunday, a weekly drinking event currently held from March to Labor Day at the Conch House.

As part of the PUD, Ponce has agreed to stop Reggae Sunday by 2010, if not earlier. He expects to replace the revenue Reggae Sunday brings in -- $250,000 annually -- by building a convention center. Neighbors have complained for years about problems Reggae Sunday brings to their area.

"I think this project will be worse for the neighborhood than Reggae Sunday," Burk said.

Some neighbors, including Debra Alexander, agreed.

"Frankly, I'd rather have (Reggae Sunday) on a seasonal basis than have this convention center in my neighborhood," Alexander said.

Mayor Joe Boles said the development was too large, and, as a resident of Davis Shores, he was especially critical of the project.

"Neighbors will walk four blocks to my house and say, 'Joe Boles you threw us under the bus,'" he said.

Commissioner Don Crichlow said he thought the project was an "opportunity to do something good with the property."

"I think it is a major step up forward in the problems that existed there for years and years and years," he said.

Ponce said he worked on putting together the convention center because he knew the neighborhood wanted Reggae Sunday stopped. He said he listened to the public and tried to do what they've asked.

The city Planning and Zoning Board held three public hearings on the project, and Ponce held a meeting with neighborhood, each time making changes to the project at the public's request.

"I've gone above and beyond to make this right," he said. "Be careful what you wish you. I could go ahead and build what I want and still keep Reggae Sunday."

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