Staff misrepresents occupancy of hotel restaurant and bar

Historic City News has reviewed official architectural drawings for Kanti Patel’s proposed San Marco hotel that have been on file with the City of St Augustine Planning and Building Department since May 13, 2016.

At issue is a continuing dispute over the amount of parking required to sustain the anticipated hotel, restaurant, lounge, and 4989-square-foot event venue, proposed to be built as a PUD along Castillo Drive West.

“Architect Jerry Dixon, who represents Mr. Patel on the project, indicated 105 total seats in the restaurant and bar when he filed his drawings last year. The applicant’s representative raised that number on April 4th; telling the City’s Planning and Zoning Board that the restaurant and bar would seat 130 patrons,” downtown resident Lee Geanuleas explained to Historic City News editor Michael Gold on Friday.

However, on review, under direction of City Manager John Regan and Planning and Building Director David Birchim, Deputy Director of the Planning and Building Department, Amy McClure Skinner, advocated the substantial understated use of the restaurant and bar to be only 50 occupants.

In a face-to-face meeting this week, Regan and Birchim represented to Geanuleas that Skinner was simply “repeating estimates” given to her by the developer. They did not defend the understated need, but they did not offer to accept responsibility for the error or offer any effort to set the record straight, Geanuleas said.

The city staff has previously understated the parking need of the proposed hotel in an apparent effort to accommodate the developer who does not want to be held to the terms of the PUD as approved — with a $7 million underground parking garage.

The original PUD, approved 11-years ago, included an underground garage sufficient to hold all required parking spaces. This year, as the developer finally considers putting shovel-to-ground, he determined that the cost of the originally approved underground garage, like the one he built at the Bayfront Hilton on Avenida Menendez, would be about $5 million more than he estimated.

The developer went before the Planning Board for approval to add an additional half-acre of HP-5 to his PUD for surface parking — in lieu of the approved parking garage. The Board was not moved to approve the modification and denied the request, despite Skinner’s understated representations, on a 4-2 vote.

The developer appealed to the City Commission whose review was limited to determining whether the Planning Board applied correct law, provided due process, and based their decision on competent and substantial evidence. Mayor Shaver found that they did, and voted to uphold the Planning Board’s decision, however the four city commissioners sided with the developer and his lawyer and overturned the denial.

Now the developer will submit an ordinance for approval to the commission. The proposed ordinance will come on for first hearing on a very crowded agenda Monday night.