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Estate owner weighs options after rejection

The Pass-a-Grille developer says a City Commission vote does not quash his plans.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 11, 2000


ST. PETE BEACH -- A surprise vote last week seemingly shut down the avenue that developer John Da Silva could have used to bring a corporate retreat to Pass-a-Grille.

But Da Silva says the city has not seen the last of him or his plans for the old August Busch estate, formerly used by the head of Anheuser-Busch to entertain the famous and fabled.

"That decision might have gotten them feeling good, but that doesn't get rid of John Da Silva," Da Silva said Thursday, two days after the St. Pete Beach City Commission voted unexpectedly -- and unanimously -- not to consider a proposed ordinance that would have allowed corporate retreats in some residential areas.

Now Da Silva is weighing his options. He could sue the city, which he said Thursday was "absolutely" under consideration. He could operate as he planned and wait for city code enforcement to come knocking.

Or, the Pass-a-Grille residents who lobbied against his plans point out, he could develop the property residentially and sell the lots at a profit. Da Silva is not convinced that is a viable option for his property, a compilation of three homes and a dock that has reportedly hosted celebrities such as Joe DiMaggio and Walter Cronkite.

Da Silva maintains that he wants to use his property for weeklong rentals, a practice that occurs regularly in Pass-a-Grille despite an ordinance preventing rental terms of less than 90 days. He argues that he tried to alter the law so he could comply, but that now he will simply break it like everyone else.

"I'm going to make them enforce it, or I'm going to make them change it," he said.

The difference between Da Silva's plans and his neighbors' weekly rentals, opponents say, is that Da Silva wants to lease his property to corporations. They fear that puts Pass-a-Grille at risk of commercialization.

City officials have indicated that if Da Silva flagrantly breaks the rental laws and reports other Pass-a-Grille property owners who do the same, the city will begin enforcing the law more fervently.

The plan possibly to rent the estate out weekly without city permission is attracting the attention of local real estate agents, Da Silva said, who he believes will lobby the city to change the rental rules.

City Manager Carl Schwing said he has not heard from any property managers or owners about changing the Pass-a-Grille short-term rental laws.

"I can tell you this, that I'm not done by any stretch of the imagination," Da Silva said.

He bought the property in 1997 for $1.1-million, hoping to save the Busch estate from being razed to make way for large, FEMA-approved, built-to-the-property-line houses on the water.

He said he pays $20,000 a month on the mortgage, utilities and upkeep, and he wants to begin recouping his investment.

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