Thursday, May 07, 2015


City board recommends approval of Cordova Inn, but with caveats
Posted: May 5, 2015 - 11:45pm

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The Planned Urban Development (PUD) application for the Cordova Inn was characterized as either the ruination of St. Augustine’s most beautiful neighborhood or the only viable way to preserve some of the city’s most vital historic houses.

With that kind of dichotomy of opinion, it was no surprise that there was so much to be said at Tuesday’s St. Augustine Planning and Zoning Board.

Hours of public comment at City Hall revealed no consensus among the city’s residents, leaving the board to make a difficult decision, which was reached around 10 p.m.

The PZB voted 5-2 to recommend approval of the PUD to allow the property at 143 Cordova St. to be used as a hotel with up to 30 rooms. Cathy Brown and Matthew Shaffer offered the dissenting votes.

Now the issue will go before the St. Augustine City Commission for a final up-or-down vote.

There were several amendments the PZB suggested in its motion to approve. It asked that there be no special events hosted at the property, except those just for guests, weekly public tours and notice given to residents of Lincolnville for the Commission meeting.

The applicant for the PUD was David Corneal, who bought the property in Historic Preservation-One district in 2014. It was previously the Dow Museum of Historic Houses of St. Augustine.

Corneal paid $1.7 million for the property and has started restoration work. His plan is to build a boutique hotel — or inn as he referred to it. That is not an allowed use in HP1, therefore the owner is pursuing a PUD.

What he can do without approval is rent the units out as apartments.

People who live within a stone’s throw of the proposed inn came out en masse, creating a very lengthy exercise in democracy.

“I’m so impressed with this community,” Shaffer said of the turnout.

More than 30 people offered public comments, and that does not include the presentation led by attorney Jane West, who was hired on behalf of nine people opposed to the project.

The major concerns had to do with traffic, parking, zoning protection and access to the site.

Many people who live in or near HP1 worry the city will be overrun with traffic should the inn be built.

The other side of the argument was that having upscale tourists at the property was better than renters. And almost everyone on the board — and many from the community — praised Corneal’s preservation effort.

Corneal’s argument from the beginning was that he needed a revenue stream to pay for what he’s put into the property and for what it will take to maintain it.

“I am not a developer,” he said. “I am a conservationist. I save historic properties if I have the opportunity to. It’s the heart of this city. What are we going to do, let it crumble, or are we going to do something about it?”

Just because people like what Corneal has done to preserve the old buildings doesn’t mean they like the idea of a commercial property there.

“I love the site plan with the apartments,” St. George Street resident David Lowther said. “I hope you will deny this application.”

Gerald Haskins, who lives close by on Marine Street, had a different opinion. He said there are several bed and breakfasts near his home, and he enjoys the visitors he meets.

“It (the Cordova Inn) is not going to destroy our quality of life,” he said. “However this board votes, there’s not going to be a Walmart in HP1.”

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