Tuesday, May 23, 2017

San Marco Hotel changes survive — at least for now (SAR)

The Gang of Four struck again last night, once again tilting toward history-destroying developers and ignoring the law and the facts.

City Commission refused to follow its own rules, which require a verbatim transcript -- developer KANTI PATEL provided only one PZB transcript (the last one), not the entire transcript to including January and February 2017 PZB meetings.

Only Mayor Nancy Shaver was faithful to her oath of office. The other four Commissioners exhibited sloth and sleaze.  Their position in dealing with developers and Big Tourism is on their knees.

Ethically challenged St. Augustine Vice Mayor TODD DAVID NEVILLE a/k/a "ODD TODD" (R-PROCTORVILLE) already had his mind made up before the hearing. So did Commissioner LEANNA FREEMAN (R-LEN WEEKS). Then Commissioners Nancy Sikes Kline and Roxanne Horvath piled on. While the vote was 4-1 (Mayor Nancy Shaver dissenting), it's not over.

Posted May 23, 2017 12:02 am - Updated May 23, 2017 10:48 am
By SHELDON GARDNER sheldon.gardner@staugustine.com
San Marco Hotel changes survive — at least for now

Potential changes to the development of a major hotel on San Marco Avenue are still alive.

St. Augustine commissioners voted to 4-1 Monday night in favor of an appeal of the Planning and Zoning Board’s 4-2 vote against changes to the San Marco Hotel Planned Unit Development. The vote in April was against changing land from a historic preservation zoning and adding it to the PUD for surface parking.

Now the proposed changes will come back to the City Commission as an ordinance, which require two hearings to be adopted.

Residents, business owners and officials debated the merits of the plan and the hotel on Monday. Some said it would be a benefit to traffic, and some raised concern about the reason for the request and opposed getting rid of historic preservation zoning for parking.

Because it was an appeal hearing with no modifications, the commission could only consider whether the planning board applied correct law, provided due process and based their decision on competent and substantial evidence.

The city approved the development in 2006 and approved its modification in 2016. The roughly 90-room hotel project can be developed under existing approvals with 114 spaces of underground parking.

Owner Kanti Patel tried to change the parking plan because of engineering concerns that arose as plans for the development moved forward, Patel’s attorney James Whitehouse said.

After getting feedback at multiple hearings at city boards over several months, Patel updated the proposal to include a tunnel to connect the hotel to surface parking to cut down on drivers using roadways.

Some questioned the reason behind the request to add more surface parking.

Resident Melinda Rakoncay, citing a conversation with Patel, said the real reason for the change is that Patel discovered that the original underground parking garage would be too costly.

“For months we’ve been put through an engineering goose chase,” Rakoncay said.

Mayor Nancy Shaver agreed.

“That is troubling to me that that was the basis for moving forward with this,” Shaver said.

Whitehouse has said the reason for the request were engineering concerns, though he said recently officials now believe they can build the required 114 spaces in shallower underground parking.

Shaver said she believes the planning board members who voted against the change used the proper evidence to support the decision.

Other commissioners raised doubts about that, including Vice Mayor Todd Neville.

“That you had three people who made the decision based on [what] they felt that they needed to just send it to the commission. … I don’t see anything in our code or that allows that to be the reason to give it to our board,” Neville said.

Neville and other commissioners also said Patel’s proposed changes would benefit the community.

Patel’s proposal is to provide 144 spaces instead of the required 114, and spread those between shallower underground parking and surface lots, one connected by a tunnel. The plan would get rid of the Barnacle Bills restaurant building, taking away 250 daily trips, Whitehouse said.

A couple of residents who live near the property spoke in favor of the project, saying they welcomed the parking lot as opposed to the bustle of a restaurant. The city mailed more than 40 comment cards to the surrounding area, and more than 30 supported the planning board’s denial.

In other business

Commissioners unanimously adopted an ordinance that allows people more time to live in campers and trailers while they repair Hurricane Matthew damage. The deadline will be when the city issues a certificate of completion for repairs or when the building permit expires.

• Commissioners unanimously approved a settlement agreement to preserve the house at 32 Granada St., which had been considered for demolition but was named a local landmark.

• Commissioner Leanna Freeman presented Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline with the Adelaide Sanchez award for historic preservation efforts, including helping to preserve the Bridge of Lions. Freeman said Sikes-Kline has “inspired others to become historic preservationists.”

• City Commissioners will have another chance to consider whether the redevelopment of the former Santa Maria property will be exempt from parts of City Code, such as parking requirements. Commissioners didn’t make a decision on Monday.


"Neville and other commissioners also said Patel’s proposed changes would benefit the community"... Just how is this project going to benefit the community? What community would that be? Perhaps a few cronies? Certainly not the community of locals who walk and drive on San Marco and Castillo Drive. Certainly not the people who live in the Abbott Tract or Masters Tract areas. And this is not about jobs since this project demolishes an established restaurant and hotel.

David Cash
30 out 40 supported the planning boards denial. Doesnt sound like it will benefit the community. We have too much development going on, both commercial and residential.

From St. Augustine Residents Count:

Tonight the City Commission voted 4-1 to uphold the San Marco Hotel developer's appeal of the PZB's denial of his rezoning request for Barnacle Bill's. The dissenting vote was by Mayor Shaver.
While some were watching the big finale of The Voice, in City Hall's Alcazar Room we were hearing the voice of Big Tourism rolling in to support one of their own. I mean, Rich Goldman, Director of The Visitor and Convention Bureau drove all the way down from his home in Ponte Vedra Beach to express his wholehearted support for the developer. David Chatterton, General Manager of Old Town Trolley St Augustine, spoke on behalf of the hotel and its PUD for parking as did Fountain of Youth owner John Fraser. 
Wow - that's some serious firepower! It's almost flattering...
Clearly the big guns were out in force to defend more and bigger tourism and one of their own and the signal was not missed by four of our commissioners. 
Showing little concern for City Code or Comprehensive Plan requirements, the four quickly made clear that they wanted the hotel with its surface parking lot and couldn't be bothered by HP zoning. Throwing the PZB under the bus was a mere formality. 
Although the Commissioners were provided in advance a verbatim PZB hearing transcript in which PZB members referenced City Code and the Comprehensive Plan as the reason for their vote, only the Mayor appeared to have actually read it. Well, it was a large transcript and, as we used to say in school, "it's only a lot of reading if you do it." 
At the end of the day, how could they not support what Richard Goldman and John Fraser want? But as one discouraged citizen commented after the hearing, "When tourism trumps zoning, we've got a problem." No kidding. 
What happens now? Well, the rezoning now gets a "do over" at the City Commission level. There will be a "First Reading" and then a "Second Reading" public hearing so that the Commissioners can approve the rezoning they've already told us tonight they want. Let's just say the suspense will be lacking. 
With apologies to Yakov Smirnoff, "WHAT A CITY!"

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