Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Not So Fast on San Marco Hotel: Lee Geanuleas/St. Augustine Residents Count


I've learned (mostly the hard way) over the years that details matter and that things aren't always what they appear to be at first blush. For example, on January 3rd the PZB will be asked to act on a proposed planned unit development (PUD) amendment for the San Marco hotel PUD at the corner of W. Castillo Dr. and San Marco Ave.

On the surface, this change seems to be a simple relocation parking from an underground parking to surface parking at the former Barnacle Bill's restaurant location on W. Castillo Dr. The applicant claims that new information on the "underground site characteristics" makes the originally approved (2008) underground parking facility not feasible and the recent purchase by the applicant of the adjacent Barnacle Bill's property offers a convenient alternative parking solution.

Seems pretty straightforward, right? But, it might be much more complicated. 

So far the discussion has been focused on traffic circulation on W. Castillo and landscaping the new parking lots to minimize impact on the adjacent residential neighborhood on Grove Ave.  That's all good, but we might be missing a couple of important consequences of the proposed change while we worry about how tall the bushes around the new parking lots will be.

First: As you can see in the picture below of the first floor site plan from October 2015, the hotel's kitchen, restaurant and ball rooms are at the east (San Marco Ave) end of the hotel. The service bay for deliveries and trash pickup is at the west end of the hotel. In the previously approved PUD, the underground garage served as the pathway from the delivery bay to the kitchen. A service elevator on the west end of the hotel would take deliveries down to the garage where they could be moved internally to a service elevator under the kitchen on the east end of the hotel. Likewise garbage from the kitchen and ball rooms would be moved out of sight of guests and passersby to the trash receptacles on the hotel's west end - pretty clever.

With the proposed removal of the underground facility, how do food and beverage deliveries get to the kitchen and ball rooms? How does garbage get back to the trash receptacles for pick up? I don’t know the answers but it seems that this all has to occur on the streets and sidewalks. Given how busy the intersection of San Marco and W. Castillo gets, this is a pretty important question.

The second issue - traffic circulation: Under the previously approved plan, cars would pull off W. Castillo and into an internal valet area. The valets would then drive the car down a ramp to the underground garage. This "outlet" to the underground garage would prevent cars from being stacked up in the valet area and onto W. Castillo.  With the proposed amendment, guests will still pull into the valet drop-off area, but without the underground parking garage, the valets will have to use a turn-around and come back out to W. Castillo to get to the parking lot at Barnacle Bill’s. While not the end of the world, this is a rather significant change that could have serious impacts on W. Castillo if multiple vehicles arrive near simultaneously (weddings/events?) and the valet area gets backed-up.

Also, it’s not clear how valets get cars from the proposed parking lots on W. Castillo back to the hotel. With the lane dividers on W. Castillo, will valets have to initially head west, pull a U-turn and then come back east on W. Castillo and then wait to make a left into the hotel’s valet area? And don’t forget that the Visitor Information Center parking garage is directly across the street from the hotel. Without stretching too far, you can see how this might get a little “sporty” during high automobile traffic times like Nights of Lights and events on Francis Field.

The point of all this is not to be alarmist or an effort to stop the hotel, but to raise awareness of things that might not be obvious to a casual observer. The changes proposed in the PUD amendment are not trivial and could be reasonably viewed as creating an entirely different hotel in terms of operations and traffic circulation than the one approved in 2008 (and revised in 2015). 

A good outcome of the PZB meeting on January 3rd might be to require the detailed infrastructure impact and traffic analyses required by the city’s recently revised PUD ordinance. And by this I mean real analysis by a disinterested professional, not a few data-free paragraphs from the applicant’s attorney saying it’s all going to be “just peachy.”  

I hope the PZB will get some straight answers and take meaningful action when this amendment comes before them.

What do you think?

Best wishes for a joyful New Year! 

On behalf of St Augustine Residents Count,
Lee Geanuleas

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