Wednesday, February 08, 2017


Tricky efforts to build a too-big hotel at Castillo and San Marco -- without promised underground parking -- fell flat Tuesday. Listening to attorney JAMES GEORGE WHITEHOUSE consume 3.5 hours of seven thoughtful members of the Planning and Zoning Board, there was no justification for deleting the underground parking that is required by the Planned Unit Development, St. Augustine Ordinance 2006-16.

Whiny wheedling WHITEHOUSE, who would talk a starving dog off a meat wagon, was a mess of last-minute sandbagging, self-serving assertions, and the always-present reminder he is a former Assistant City Attorney. How gauche and louche. I literally lost count of how many times WHITEHOUSE said umm and uhh.

MARRIOTT is investigating in response to my complaint to its Audit Committtee and General Counsel pursuant to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Posted February 8, 2017 12:03 am - Updated February 8, 2017 06:05 am
Plan for San Marco Hotel with surface parking stalls in PZB hearing

A Planned Unit Development for the 89-room San Marco Hotel in downtown St. Augustine is already a decade old and still not settled.

Three and a half hours in front of the Planning and Zoning Board Tuesday didn’t change that.

The effort by owner Kanti Patel to adjust the PUD plan from a hotel with a 114-space underground parking garage to a hotel with 91 surface parking spaces on area lots was dealt a delay rather than a defeat at the meeting.

Because of a variety of issues and concerns, several of the PZB members indicated that they were not inclined to recommend approval of the revamped PUD in which the lot at 6 West Castillo Drive (currently the site of Barnacle Bill’s restaurant) would be used for valet parking.

The biggest issue for some was the fact that the lot does not directly connect with the driveway of the hotel. That would require valet drivers to make two left turns to get the vehicles back to the entrance of the hotel on San Marco Avenue.

So following more than three hours of discussion of the plan, attorney James Whitehouse, representing Patel, said he was willing to offer an alternative that would include a tunnel connecting the lot to the rest of the hotel property.

But because the board had already spent so much time with the plan that didn’t include the tunnel, they decided to continue the item to next month’s meeting. At that time, Whitehouse will present a detailed drawing with some kind of tunnel connection.

“My only problem with the parking is … the fact that it’s all broken up,” PZB chair Matthew Shaffer said. “If at least more of it were adjacent and connected to the hotel, then that would be something I would consider.

“As long as the parking is completely separated from the hotel and there has to be all this in and out, I definitely won’t be able to support that.”

Several dozen residents came forward during a lengthy public comment session.

Those who lived closest to the proposed parking lot said they favored the change from a busy restaurant to a hotel parking lot.

And many of those in favor of the change pointed to Patel’s previous work, especially the Historic Bayfront Hilton, as proof of the quality work he does.

But among the concerns of the opponents was the changing of the zoning from HP 5 to PUD. Several of the people said the city should not allow a property owner to take a lot of the district and use it for parking, which is not an allowed use. But some board members said the new PUD application should be taken as a whole and that using some of the subject property for parking would be acceptable.

Also at issue was the traffic pattern at the busy intersection. Some board members and members of the community were worried about the safety of drivers trying to turn left onto Castillo Drive.

And even some of the board members wondered if the revamped project had enough parking spots overall since the underground garage would have 23 more spots than what was proposed Tuesday. However, Whitehouse countered by saying the hotel would pay for its guests to use up to 50 parking spaces in the city parking garage, which is across the street.

St. Augustine building director David Birchim said the city garage is at capacity only 1 percent of the time.

That was enough to appease some PZB members on that issue.

Cathy Brown was probably the biggest supporter of the plan Tuesday. She said the hotel, which would be modeled on a Victorian-style hotel in St. Augustine that burned down in 1885, would be a great addition along an entrance corridor.

“I think it would be a real crown jewel,” she said.

Should the new PUD application eventually be denied, Patel could still build the San Marco Hotel with the underground parking as approved in 2006. However, engineers testified Tuesday that building underground in that spot could destabilize the area. It’s unclear whether that issue could be mitigated in some way.


A crown jewel indeed. For all the north city drivers, a hotel at the corner of San Marco and Castillo Dr. is nothing but adding to the traffic cluster that already exists and will only be worsened by this change. Also, if the garage is only at capacity 1 percent of the time, that means there is at least 1 parking spot left ninety-nine percent of the time. Good Luck parking and dragging your bags across that intersection. Even with crosswalks and pedestrian signals that is the most dangerous intersection in town for pedestrians. Add some parking valets to that mix and it should get real interesting. Nothing about this plan is a jewel for anyone except those with a direct financial interest. Everyone else will pay the price.

As a nearby resident I consider what is currently there (1980's design hotel, restaurant, and theater) to be much worse. A high-end boutique hotel based on a St Augustine historic design is what the area needs and will produce less traffic than the current configuration.

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