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Clearwater approves resort despite objections

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Mayor Frank Hibbard casts the deciding vote for the $100-million project. He opposed it in December. By AARON SHAROCKMAN Published February 18, 2005 CLEARWATER – City Council members approved Dr. Kiran Patel’s proposed 350-hotel room resort Thursday over the staunch objections of city planners, who say it is too big for Clearwater Beach. The resort will still need cursory approval from the city’s planning board, but Thursday’s 3-2 vote is essentially a green light for the $100-million project. Mayor Frank Hibbard, speaking last, was the swing vote. Council members John Doran and Hoyt Hamilton supported the project. Bill Jonson and Carlen Petersen voted against the resort. “The time has come for this project,” Hamilton said. “It’s time to build this thing.” At Thursday’s meeting, Patel’s attorney presented a new alternative design for the resort, which will sit south of the roundabout on S Gulfview Boulevard, the current site of several small motels, including a former Days Inn. The latest design, at least the project’s fifth, tiers the top four floors on the north and south ends, like a wedding cake. The new design shrinks the building by about 32,000 square feet, though the number of resort rooms would not change. A drawing was not available Thursday. In total, the proposed resort is 757,000 square feet. If the project was not approved, Clearwater attorney Tim Johnson, who represents Patel, said Patel could instead build 150 condominium units. The hotel as planned is currently topped with 75 condo units. Thursday, Johnson showed three potential condominium-only concepts. “I’m not threatening you. I don’t know what’s going to happen if you turn this down. I do know what’s happening on Clearwater Beach,” Johnson said. “Hotels are being bought and converted into condominiums at a breathtaking pace. You have an opportunity to add to the hotel stock. I ask that you seize it.” For months, city staffers and Patel’s team have sparred over the size of the building. Staffers say the 14-story, 500-foot-wide resort is too large and does not comport to the city’s beach plan, called Beach by Design. Patel and his group argue that the building meets the code and is comparable to an already approved Hyatt resort, which will be built south of Patel’s resort site. “I find it hard to believe we wanted to have one catalytic resort in the middle of S Gulfview that would cover up the sun for everyone else,” Doran said at an earlier meeting. Petersen and Jonson agreed that a hotel was best for Patel’s property. But they took pause at this specific design. As it became clear the resort would be approved, Petersen put her head in her hands. Earlier, Jonson held up a simulation of the resort. “This drawing scares the heck out of me,” Jonson said. “It is huge. It is massive.” Planning Director Cyndi Tarapani said the city’s planning board would need to review a changed location of a pedestrian bridge linking the hotel to the beach. That review would not open up the entire project to a new round of interpretation, she said. In December, Patel, who was not at Thursday’s meeting, asked a vote on the project be delayed until Thursday after three council members said they would not approve the plan in its then-current form. The majority said the size of the project needed to shrink. Hibbard, who said in December he couldn’t support the resort, switched sides after the latest design alteration. “(It) is an improved situation,” he said. Patel spent $40-million in September to buy the 2.7-acre site on S Gulfview from hotelier Tony Markopoulos after the city’s planning board approved a site plan for the project over the objections of the city staff. But because the project asked for additional density from a bonus pool of rooms created by the City Council, council members also had comment. Patel, a noted entrepreneur and philanthropist from Tampa, has never developed a resort hotel before. He said the hotel would be managed by a well-known national chain. He has been working with Westin, which expressed interest. Along with the 350 hotel-condominium units, the 150-foot-tall resort would include spa facilities, a roof-top pool and convention and meeting space. “This is probably the most significant piece of the property in Clearwater,” said Gilbert Jannelli, one of several residents who voiced their support for the project. “It deserves a signature development.” Source:
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