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St. Pete Beach opens door to the corporate use of estate
By AMY WIMMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 9, 2000
ST. PETE BEACH -- The city on Tuesday gave a nod -- though a cautious and tentative one -- to a plan that would allow a corporate time-share hideaway in Pass-a-Grille.
Builder John DaSilva has been working for months to win city approval for his idea: a renovation of the Busch estate, long used as a winter home for August A. Busch Jr., the former head of Anheuser-Busch Inc. and owner of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The plan requires not only city permission but a brand-new ordinance that would give the city authority to allow such a project in a residential area. DaSilva advised commissioners that if they do not agree to such an ordinance, he would raze the fabled Busch estate and construct four huge houses on the four-lot property.
Those types of houses have rattled traditionalists in Pass-a-Grille, who referred to them at Tuesday's meeting as "ugly," "cookie cutter" and "Saltine cracker boxes." Most of the neighbors who spoke Tuesday favored DaSilva's plan to host corporate board meetings over his alternative plan to build more luxury homes in Pass-a-Grille.
"Things like that stick out," said Jeff Arthur, who owns property near the Don CeSar. The Busch estate is south of the Don, on the east side of Pass-a-Grille Way. "Things like John is proposing will go great in the community. I hope the commission sees fit in letting this go forward because I think it's in the interest of the residents."
Under current city codes, DaSilva's plan is impossible, so he is asking city commissioners to change the law to allow his project.
If the commission agrees and decides to allow small conference facilities as a special exception within some residential districts, DaSilva would still need to apply for and be approved for a special-use permit.
On Tuesday, the commission took a first step toward at least giving DaSilva a process to go through. Commissioners asked the city attorney to draft an ordinance creating the needed special exception.
The property includes 240 feet of waterfront property. Three one-story houses are built on the four lots, and walkways connect all three. DaSilva wants to tear down the middle house, which has little historical significance, he says, and add second floors to the other two houses.
DaSilva was frustrated Tuesday at how long the process has taken so far. He bought the property for $1.1-million in November 1997 and has been moving back and forth between the St. Pete Beach City Commission and the Planning and Zoning Board, trying to convince the city that the plan is to let him rent the Busch complex to deep-pocketed corporations seeking reclusive spots to do business.
DaSilva has done his best to sell his project to neighbors. He has tried to spread accurate information on what his plans are, and he also has dropped occasional names, just to hint at the caliber of people Pass-a-Grille residents can expect to see around St. Pete Beach if DaSilva gets what he is looking for.
He has mentioned that Outback Steakhouse and Johnson & Johnson are interested in corporate rentals, and he also said that New York Yankees manager Joe Torre has stayed at the estate in recent months.
DaSilva also donated $500 to a political candidate, Lenny Stamos, a bicycle shop owner who lost his bid for mayor last month to three-term Commissioner Ward Friszolowski. Stamos spoke in favor of DaSilva's plan Tuesday.
The public-relations campaign apparently paid off. Only a couple of neighbors showed up Tuesday to object to the plan, though City Commissioner John Phillips believes the opposition might not have been as well represented at Tuesday's hearing as the proponents were.
"Though John has great ideas, he does plan to drastically change the existing buildings," said Tina Douglass, one of the few Pass-a-Grille neighbors who expressed concerns about DaSilva's project. "Either we go along with the change, or he'll bulldoze it all, and he'll build four Saltine box houses. It's sort of giving you an ultimatum."
The commission tentatively supported the plan, though it emphasized that the action it took Tuesday just launches a process for DaSilva to go through for approval.
From here, city staff will begin working on the ordinance. If it passes, DaSilva can apply for a special exception and take his plea to the city's Planning and Zoning Board.
Commissioner Rachel Crepeau, who represents the Pass-a-Grille area, was among DaSilva's endorsers.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.