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Inns and outs in Pass-a-Grille

The city is on the verge of letting just some mom-and-pops rebuild in this enclave.

By PAUL SWIDER, Times Staff Writer
Published December 16, 2007


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ST. PETE BEACH - The Gulf Way Inn in Pass-a-Grille has been serving tourists for decades, and owner Takvor Evrikoz wants to keep doing so but fears he won't be able to.

His 84-year-old building lacks the modern touches tourists expect, but he has no legal right to rebuild a hotel on property zoned for residences.

"Tourists are very demanding," he said. "They don't want rat holes."

As beach communities suffer the loss of tourist lodging to condominiums, they've struggled to balance a desire for more visitors with retaining their cities' character.

Pass-a-Grille is a microcosm of similar issues elsewhere and the difficulty of pleasing everyone.

Evrikoz has spearheaded an effort to get the City Commission to allow mom-and-pop hotels in Pass-a-Grille to rebuild. He has nearly won, but not the way he wanted because the City Commission is on the verge of passing an ordinance aimed at a few properties, not all the hotels Evrikoz championed.

"I said this is for all the mom-and-pops," Evrikoz said. "They said this is just for these two gentlemen."

Indeed, at a November City Commission meeting, Evrikoz again made his plea for help to preserve all the small tourist lodging in quaint, historic Pass-a-Grille.

A majority of commissioners said they wanted to expedite rebuilding specifically for Evrikoz and Joe Caruso, who owns the adjacent Sabal Palms hotel. Commissioner Harry Metz, who represents the area, told Evrikoz repeatedly: "This is for you and Joe."

Metz declined further discussion and the commission has since broadened the reach of its new rules.

Caruso said he, too, would like others to benefit, but he understands the city leaders' conundrum: If they offer a wide-ranging change, they might encourage new hotels in a community that wants to retain its small-town charm. But city staffers have advised the City Commission that writing laws too narrowly might not survive a legal challenge, which could create a whole new set of problems.

A zoning with risks

For now, the commission is planning to create a "traditional hotel" zoning category but limit membership to licensed, operating tourist facilities on Gulf Way south of 19th Avenue, those on First Avenue, and those with land greater than 8,712 square feet.

They would accomplish this through a tangled process that operates within the city's comprehensive plan so as to avoid changing that plan and subjecting the matter to the delay of a public vote.

"I want to help these people, too, but this is not the way to do it," said Commissioner Ed Ruttencutter, who voted against the proposal. "I'm not sure it's even a legal way."

Ruttencutter echoes the city staff in saying the community should help the hotels by revamping its comprehensive plan. Efforts to do so for larger hotels over the past few years met with resistance from a political action group that demanded that residents vote on comprehensive plan changes. Metz was a member of that group, as were Commissioners Linda Chaney and Mike Finnerty. Both also voted for the current Pass-a-Grille plan.

The danger of the traditional-hotel plan is that owners of similar properties excluded by the designation could demand inclusion and the city might not be able to legally refuse them.

Because the plan also relies on potentially increased residential density, the approach could also lead to more condos all over the beach.

"What's ironic is that Pass-a-Grille would have the highest hotel density, not the large-hotel district," said Ron Holehouse, who owns Inn on the Beach, a Gulf Way hotel across 14th Avenue from Evrikoz's that was excluded from the city's plan because its 12 units sit on less than 8,000 square feet.

'No good solution'

The commissioners passed a first reading Tuesday but might still change it before a second, final vote. They increased the geographic area at their last meeting at the request of Millard Gamble, whose Island's End property was left out.

Other properties in Pass-a-Grille and the city may lobby for the extra density the rules could allow.

"The question is, why let hotels in Pass-a-Grille rebuild but not those in Upham Beach?" said Karl Holley, the city's community development director. "There is no good solution to this problem."

Evrikoz said the planning aspect is a puzzle, but so is human nature.

"People are strange," he said. "St. Pete Beach needs to be rebuilt, all of it, but some people don't like other people to make any money."

Paul Swider can be reached at pswider@sptimes.com or 892-2271.

[Last modified December 15, 2007, 22:01:18]


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