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Developers rushing to beat July deadline

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Turning Clearwater Beach hotels into condos will become harder. By AARON SHAROCKMAN Published June 12, 2005 CLEARWATER – Headed to the beach? These days, bring a hard hat. Two-story shoe box motels are increasingly being leveled for luxury. Eleven towers, hundreds of hotel rooms and hundreds of condos are planned. More are coming. Developers are rushing to beat a July 1 city deadline, when turning hotels into condominiums will become tougher. The changes are necessary, the city says, to save hotel rooms and preserve the beach as a tourist destination. It’s thought that about 500 hotel rooms already have been lost to condos. But maybe a dozen more projects are expected to fly in under the deadline in order to maximize returns. By July 2, planners may have an entirely new beach to draw. “Everything that could be in play is in play for something,” said City Manager Bill Horne. “I’m hearing more and more every day.” The city’s Planning Department has been like a highway interchange. Developers coming. Engineers going. Consultants stuck in traffic. Housh Ghovaee, whose Northside Engineering Services has worked on many of the beach projects, understands it all has been a bit smothering. It’s not going to get better, he said last week. “We want to make sure we’re not overwhelming the city with all these projects,” said Ghovaee, who was part of about six applications filed in May to bring more condos to Clearwater Beach. He expects to turn over a like number by July 1. Local land use lawyer Ed Armstrong said he’s working on several projects himself. Friday, he met with developer Uday Lele and architect Richard Gillett, part of the team hoping to replace the 110-unit Best Western with 90 ultrachic condominiums. “There have been busy times before, but the sense of urgency out there now is enormous,” Armstrong said. “Every consultant I know has more work than they can possibly get done.” City officials are bracing for the impact. Planning director Michael Delk said he expects several projects, though he is unsure how many, to attempt to beat the July deadline. “We’re mentally preparing for it,” Delk said. Some projects are already in the department’s hands. Among them, Lucca Development LLC plans to replace several Clearwater Beach hotels, including the S Gulfview Boulevard Howard Johnson, with 102 condominiums in two buildings, one 148 feet tall. More than 100 hotel and motel rooms would disappear as part of Lucca’s proposal. Another developer is seeking to build 50 condo units at the northeast corner of Hamden Drive and S Gulfview, where one of the Sea Stone buildings now sits. And a British company, Taylor Woodrow, plans to replace the 217-unit Adam’s Mark Hotel with 113 condos and 78 hotel rooms. “Clearwater Beach is a work in progress,” said Ghovaee. “In five to 10 years, we’re going to see a different place. We’re writing history here.” Developers are racing to file a plan to replace Gunnar Hedqwist’s 22-unit Sunrise Resort Motel South with condos. Hedqwist hopes they’ll beat the July 1 deadline, though he knows that some small hotel owners won’t be as lucky. If they redevelop, they’ll have to use the new, tougher rules. “I am one of the few lucky ones who is getting out of it,” said Hedqwist, adding he could lose $600,000 if he waited until after July 1, when fewer condos could be built. “When all the big projects were done and only the small ones were left to be developed, that’s when the government steps in, smiling in our face,” Hedqwist said. “The exit came now very, very quickly on us. They slammed it on our face.” On July 2, city officials think they may finally have an idea of what the redevelopment of the beach will look like. By then, almost every major landowner will have made his intentions known – redevelop, remodel or stay put. “We may be able to see a road map that addresses every property out there,” said Horne, the city manager. After that, the beach boom “is pretty much done,” said Ed Hooper, a development consultant. Then comes the construction. Aaron Sharockman can be reached at 727 445-4160 or Source:
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