New Pass-a-Grille Hotel Proposal Concerns Some Residents | Beaches


It is the age-old tale of coastal Pinellas County.

The beaches stimulate tourism and development. Real estate is changing hands. Land use ordinances are challenged or amended.

Condominiums and vacation rentals are on the rise before longtime residents can figure out that their little slice of heaven isn’t quite the same.

This is not yet the story of the historic Pass-a-Grille.

At the southern tip of Pinellas County’s barrier islands, the quaint and welcoming town district of St. Pete Beach has largely retained its small town charm. The roads are narrow, the speed limit slow. The brick-lined Main Street, a short walk from the sand, looks like it was taken from the set of a Hallmark movie.

But a recent proposal for a new hotel, and the possible demolition of a historic building to make way for it, has raised concerns among some residents that without intervention, everything they love in their community will soon change. The developer said it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s what you need to know about the proposed project, the rapid response from residents, and the brewing battle to “keep history at Pass-a-Grille”.

Mass and scale

The proposed development is a three-story, 42,000 square foot structure, with approximately 50 parking spaces, 27 hotel rooms, retail space on the ground floor and a rooftop bar and pool that would be located at the east corner of Eighth Avenue – the center of the historic Pass-a-Grille business district.

It is the current location of an open parking lot, lined with palm trees, as well as a pink building from the 1920s, formerly known as the Marine Apartments. The exterior of the building has changed over the years, but the bones of the structure have remained the same.

The hotel’s plans are fine, said Pass-a-Grille resident Beverly Jackson, but it’s the size of the project that concerns her.

“It’s just huge,” said Jackson, standing on the corner of Eighth Avenue in late October. “Take a look around at the other buildings on that street and imagine it there.) It’s not consistent with the vibe of the historic Pass-a-Grille.

In response to the proposed project, Jackson said she and her neighbors recently started a nonprofit called Friends of Pass-a-Grille.

“We are a group of citizens who are passionate about the historic Pass-a-Grille and we want to see the charm and vibe that drew us all here be kept,” the group’s website read.

Jackson said about 100 people have joined Friends of Pass-a-Grille since the site went live in October, and most have expressed similar concerns.

“We are not opposed to development,” Jackson said. “We are opposed to the great mass and to the scale in our community.”

Amy Loughery, owner of a local business, agreed.

Loughery has lived in the community since she was a teenager in the 1970s. When she moved to Pass-a-Grille from Indiana, she first lived in the pink building where the proposed hotel would be built. Now she works in her office.

“I’m a little biased because of my personal connection to the building,” Loughery said. “But we’re at a tipping point at Pass-a-Grille. I’m not against a hotel, but just want to make sure we protect our fragile little island. We want the size to match the rest of Pass-a-Grille.

Longtime resident Marsha Anderson said she was concerned the development could be a gateway for other projects of a similar magnitude in the future.

“Pass-a-Grille is special,” Anderson said. “If we don’t stop what is happening, we will end up like everywhere else.

Evolution vs change

Like Jackson, Loughery, and Anderson, many of the people who joined Friends of Pass-a-Grille have lived here for decades. This is their home and they want to protect it.

But one of the developers of the proposed hotel said it was no different.

Maryann Ferenc has lived in Pass-a-Grille for almost 30 years. She owns the Berkley Beach Club, a boutique hotel-restaurant located directly across from the site of the planned development. Her background is in hospitality and tourism, and she chaired Visit Florida, the state tourism board.

Now it’s Ferenc – and three friends – who are hoping to open the hotel, which they call The Holloway, in space.

“I care so much about this neighborhood,” Ferenc said. “We want to build something that will make sense and last a long time. “

Although the sale of the property where the hotel would go up is not yet official, Ferenc said she hopes it will be finalized by December.

Notably, the City of St. Pete Beach Commissioner, Melinda Pletcher, is the seller’s real estate agent representing the multi-million dollar transaction. Pletcher said she had informed the city attorney of her involvement and would recuse herself in the event that she appeared before the commission.

Ferenc said she understands people feel passionate about the project; she and the other developers want to have community discussions and are open to comments. But as to the scale of the project, Ferenc said she was not making any promises. What is proposed is currently authorized by the city’s land use codes.

“I always say that people hate change, but they can learn to love evolution,” Ferenc said. “We care about Pass-a-Grille and we want to do something that will be architecturally beautiful here. “

And, Ferenc added, if this project does not come to fruition, residents must remember that another will eventually.

“The point is, someone is going to build there,” Ferenc said. “I thought if we could do something with love, passion and respect for history and community, it would be better than someone who didn’t live here and didn’t have a connection to the community (build on field). “

What is worth saving?

At a city commission meeting on Nov. 2, a group of about 25 residents – led by Jackson – filled a room at city hall. They held up paper signs that read things like “Keep History in Pass-A-Grille”.

Jackson, who was previously city commissioner and a member of the historic preservation council, said the size of the proposed development poses the most immediate threat to the neighborhood. But the project has brought to light the lack of protections in the historic district of the district. This is what sparked the commitment and the concern.

“We were just scared to death,” Jackson told city commissioners at the meeting. “We’re going to be nice. We will be polite. We just want our voices to be heard.

Although the city has a historic preservation board, it lacks bite. The council can delay the demolition of a building for up to 90 days. But his authority stops there.

Additionally, everything in the Designated Historic District – which includes a central business district covering parts of Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and 10th Avenues – is outside the purview of the Historical Council. Discrepancies in an ordinance passed in the early 2000s have left it unclear whether or not the proposed hotel will go to historic council.

“It does not make sense that the heartbeat of the historic district is excluded from consideration by the historic preservation board,” board chairman Chris Marone told commissioners.

The commissioners accepted. Mayor Al Johnson has asked Marone to come back with recommendations for changes to the ordinance which could be discussed at a later date.

But former mayor Bob Douglass told the commission he believed the changes had to go beyond expanding the jurisdiction of the council. The fact that a project like the one proposed was entirely within the developer’s rights, he said, was a problem in itself. He asked the commission to consider adopting a new ordinance, extending the power of the historical council.

“I think any building plan should go past the historic board,” said Douglass. “I think we have to go back to square one. “

Holly Young, a historic board member, agreed that she would like the board to have more oversight. But Young said discussions also need to take place over what is and is not historically important as time passes the land becomes more valuable and the threat of flooding becomes more serious.

“I think we’re going to have to redefine what historic preservation means going forward with FEMA rules,” Young said. “What are we going to value as worth saving? “

The Historic Preservation Council met on November 4. He voted to suspend the demolition of the pink building on Eighth Avenue for 90 days – the limits of his authority – but also formally asked the City Commission to discuss giving council more powers of review.

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