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County grants cities hotel density options

Many residents see the action as opening the door for an increase in development.

By NICK JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
Published October 21, 2007


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ST. PETE BEACH- The Board of County Commissioners has passed an ordinance that could allow for bigger hotels, reviving an argument that has many St. Pete Beach residents divided.

Under the new ordinance, municipalities have the option of amending their comprehensive plans to allow for higher densities of hotel rooms per acre.

The change is an attempt by the Pinellas Planning Council to boost the incentive to build hotels instead of condos, but some detractors think it could also be a boost toward overdevelopment.

The county has lost thousands of hotel rooms in recent years to condo conversions.

David Healey, executive director of the Pinellas Planning Council, said that the cap on hotel density was one of the contributing factors because in the current market it would take between three and six hotel rooms to make the same return as one condo.

"From a simple economic standpoint there was no incentive for someone to reinvest in a hotel," Healey said.

But William Pyle, who funds the St. Pete Beach political action committee Citizens for Responsible Growth, disagrees.

"It just opens the floodgate to overdevelopment," he said. "I think it's basically a giveaway to big developers."

Pyle went before the county commissioners last week to voice his concerns.

He thinks the new ordinance is just the first step toward overdeveloping beach communities that are already suffering from traffic jams and infrastructure strains from overcrowding.

Although a considerable amount of the discussion regarding the new ordinance focused on the beaches, Healey said the change was made to benefit the whole county.

We think it's equally important for the business hotels and mainland hotels," he said.

Healy also stressed that the ordinance wouldn't have any immediate effect on any community.

While it gives municipalities the option to allow the higher densities, they would still have to go through the process of amending their comprehensive plans to make the change.

In St. Pete Beach the amendment would have to be passed by a voter referendum.

Deborah Martohue, a land use lawyer who was a St. Pete Beach commissioner, went before the county to lobby for the new amendment.

Martohue was on the St. Pete Beach commission when the city amended its comprehensive plan to allow for higher density building, a change that was overturned by a referendum vote after CRG members petitioned to put it on the ballot.

She said she didn't understand why Pyle was against the ordinance that would likely not affect St. Pete Beach.

"I think it opens the door," Martohue said.

"I don't know what it will accomplish, but it gives communities the option."

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8361.

[Last modified October 20, 2007, 22:26:25]


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