Wednesday, September 30, 2015

SAB Rejects Another Hotel by Farid Ashdji, Dodgy Developer

o Developer FARID ASHDJI's prior demand for forgiveness of a promise to pay some $566,000 for infrastructure was rejected by SAB last year.
o Developer FARID ASHDJI's demand to build a too-tall hotel on U.S. 1 in St. Augustine was denied in January 2015, despite his threat to convert his existing property into a crack motel.
o "Who are the beneficial owners" of every dodgy LLC changing our landscape? The New York Times asks that question, in Pulitzer-worthy stories that have led to a federal criminal investigation of the Prime Minister of Malaysia; foreigners are buying up U.S. real estate and hiding their ownership, buying influence. Waiting on governments and journalists to ask, "Who are the beneficial owners" of every dodgy LLC changing our landscape?"

Beach commission denies developer's zoning request for hotel
Posted: September 28, 2015 - 11:48pm

Citing timing and residents’ concerns, the St. Augustine Beach commission unanimously voted Monday night to deny an ordinance that would give commercial status to six lots.
In an effort to bring a Holiday Inn Express Hotel to St. Augustine Beach, Fred Ashdji of MSB Hotels II LLC requested a land-use change to make all lots of a property commercial.
The property, known as block 18, lies between A1A Beach Boulevard and Second Avenue near the Chautauqua Beach subdivision. It is made up of 16 lots, 10 of which are zoned for commercial use, with the remaining six lots zoned as residential.
The developers, who already own the land, requested a zoning change to give the remaining six lots commercial status.
At its June meeting, the Planning and Zoning Board voted 4 to 3 to recommend to the commission that the change be approved.
But commissioners said Monday there are too many questions left unanswered to approve the request.
“We do now have quite a bit of hotel property, and I’m hesitant to make a change because of the birth of a three-story hotel,” said Commissioner Margaret England.
Vice-Mayor Rich O’Brien added: “I’m concerned about the quality of life. I’ve received emails on the topic, and 85 percent of them are against it. I just can’t do it to those people.”
The decision, which came after about 90 minutes of discussion, was met with thunderous applause by Beach residents.
“We are already building two hotels, and we don’t need a new one. We are changing a quaint beach town into a row of hotels,” said Gail DeBrese, a Beach resident. “I’m not against change, as long it is within current regulation.”
While addressing the commission, DeBrese also questioned the point of having zoning ordinances if they can be changed.
Block 18 was purchased when MSB Hotels II LLC bought the land that is to become the Marriott. When the company bought the land, it was always in their plans to build a hotel there, Ashdji said.
“We always said we wanted to build two hotels on St. Augustine Beach; that was always our intention,” he said. “St. Augustine is a unique community, and people are always coming here. So what better way is there to accommodate them but to build a hotel?”
But it’s that unique atmosphere residents say will be diminished if hotels continue to be built on the Beach.
“We don’t want to become like other overdeveloped beach towns,” said Janice Joy. “The change of land use would contribute to the further erosion of neighborhoods.”
It’s a sentiment Debbie Pultsman echoes.
“If you take a look at Daytona (Beach) and Atlantic City, you see what happens when people get carried away,” she said.
Other residents said the Beach doesn’t need another hotel because there are already vacancies in the ones that already exist.
“There’s no way the rooms around here were not filled this past month,” James Garrison said.
About 20 people spoke on the issue. Only two people spoke in favor of the rezoning, one of whom was former commissioner Brud Helhoski.
As 10 of the lots are already zoned as commercial, someone else can potentially build a hotel on that parcel of land anyway, he said.
“There’s going to be something commercial on that property,” Helhoski said. “If he (Ashdji) sells the land, it could be given to someone who isn’t so nice to the area and could put in a restaurant and vacation rentals. There’s the possibility of someone working within the zoning, but it being worse than what is being offered today.”
In addition to owning (sic) the Courtyard by Marriott, Ashdji also owns (sic) the Hampton Inn on Beach Boulevard.
Commissioner Undine George and Mayor Andrea Samuels said they had reservations because they did not yet know what impact the two hotels would bring to residents living near them.
“We don’t know what those unforeseen consequences will be of the large number of additional hotels to the community,” George said.
Samuels suggested taking a step back to look at the impact the new hotels will have on the community.
“I believe in managed growth, not just growth,” she said.
During the meeting, Ashdji asked to withdraw his application and come back after the impact has been seen. But his request was denied.
During Monday night’s meeting, commissioners also unanimously voted to approve the fiscal year 2016 budget.
The budget includes a higher debt millage rate, which was raised to offset the purchasing of the 4.5 acres remaining in Ocean Hammock Park.
The 2016 debt millage rate is set at 0.50 mils, which is an increase from the 0.08 mils the city operated on last year.
In July, the commission approved the 0.50 millage rate, and the land, formerly known as Maratea, was purchased the next month for $4.5 million.
Funds to purchase the property will come from the debt service fund, which has a proposed budget of $791,630 for fiscal year 2016, according to a memo written by City Manager Max Royle.
St. Augustine Beach is expected to purchase the land later this month or in early October.
Although a 2.4 operating millage was considered, commissioners ultimately voted to maintain the 2.3 millage rate used during fiscal year 2015.
“If we stay steady, we might be able to do fair, equitable salary increases,” England said.
The operating millage rate was increased because of the land purchases the city plans to make, said Commissioner Gary Snodgrass. “I hope to see us hold the 2.3 millage rate, if possible,” he said.
There is a $700 difference between 2.3 and 2.4 millage, said Melissa Burns, chief financial officer.
“I think we can find $700,” Samuels said.
The 2016 budget also includes salary increases for government employees.
Other topics on Monday’s agenda were:
■ An ordinance that would require major developments to be approved by the commission
■ An ordinance regarding the vacating of streets and alleys
■ The opening of Eighth Street west of Beach Boulevard
■ Review of requests for a grant for the Maratea purchase
■ Review of requests for a planning consultant

Firstcoaster 09/29/15 - 10:15 am 112The people have spoken,
but don't let your guard down because these developers will just try an end run when you least expect it.
Morris1 09/29/15 - 02:52 pm 30Good.
Doesn't former commissioner Brud Helhoski own a business in very close proximity to the proposed hotel, which one could very safely assume would benefit immensely from increased tourist density within short-walking distance?
Or am I thinking of someone else?

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