Guest Column: Impact of San Marco Hotel will be felt forever
St Augustine, FL
Special to Historic City News
As a member of the St. Augustine Planning and Zoning Board, this letter represents my own thoughts only. It is in no way to be interpreted as those of the board.
Eleven years ago, developer Kanti Patel was approved for a Planned Unit Development to build the new San Marco Hotel on the corner of West Castillo and San Marco, in HP-5.
It was to have underground parking, like his successful development of the Hilton Hotel on the bayfront. This year, Mr. Patel came back to the St. Augustine Planning and Zoning Board asking to add an additional half-acre of HP-5 to his PUD for surface parking.
His justification was that underground parking was not feasible. After several hearings, the PZB denied the application, followed by an appeal to the City Commission that, except for Mayor Shaver, found that the board members had erred in their findings. But did they?
During the last PZB hearing, the applicant’s engineer admitted that underground parking is possible, but far more expensive than originally thought.
As a PZB board member, I moved to deny the application because:
- The need and justification, the very basis of a PUD request, is in violation of our zoning code “we need more land because it cost too much to do what was approved” is not justifiable. Zoning doesn’t exist to bail out developers.
- The project is in violation of our Comp Plan requiring that HP districts be primarily residential and that it maintain the low intensive ambiance of the neighborhood, and pedestrian scale of the neighborhood. The completed project, as requested, would be more than 20 percent of the district added to its existing commercial entities.
- Clearly a hotel approximately the size of the Casa Monica with 60-foot towers built right up to the street is neither low intensive nor pedestrian scale.
- And then, there is parking.
While the city is dealing with mobility and parking problems, this PUD would provide 144 parking spaces, 89 of them for hotel rooms.
The remaining 55 spaces are to cover staff parking plus 10,000 square feet of accessory uses including a ballroom, restaurant, bar and convention space.
During the last PZB hearing, former St. Augustine Beach Planning and Zoning Board member Karen Zander testified, using submitted architect’s plans measured against our CoSA Code and Florida Building Code, that a total 283 spots were needed, versus 144 offered.
Obviously, that is not nearly enough — and all of this across from the parking garage on, arguably, the busiest street in St. Augustine!
I hope the Commission revisits this during first and second readings of this application. I hope all who have misgivings about the congestion this will cause come and make their voices heard. This one is important.