Fifth Avenue South buildings demolished, as development plans at site uncertain

By Joseph Cranney of the Naples Daily News

Crews began demolition on local developer Phil McCabe's old building on the 400 block of Fifth Avenue South on Wednesday, even as the building's future, and the future of other commercial developments in the area, remains in flux because of a pending lawsuit.

Christopher Shucart, the developer who won city approval for a three-story project on 9th Street South that is similar to McCabe's, said he is changing his plans after neighbors argued in the lawsuit that McCabe's building concept doesn't adhere to the Naples charter.

And another builder who wants to redevelop a property on Fifth Avenue is planning a three-story commercial building that doesn't deviate from charter limits on building height. Neighbors have argued in court that the charter limits are absolute.

The question of whether the Naples City Council is properly enforcing the charter was brought to court in December when Bob Martin and Joan Fiore, two downtown property owners, sued the city and McCabe, claiming the council shouldn't have approved McCabe's plans to tear down his old building at 465 5th Ave. S. and put up a three-story building with underground parking.

The underground parking garage plus the three stories above ground make a four-story building, the lawsuit claims, violating a provision of the charter that restricts all commercial buildings to three floors. McCabe and the city argue the charter doesn't clearly prohibit McCabe's building design.

McCabe's new building will include 11 condos on the second and third floors and high-end retail on the ground floor. He said he will delay construction on his underground garage, which would include 43 spaces, until Judge James R. Shenko makes a ruling on the lawsuit. McCabe has plans for 29 spaces of surface parking as an alternative.

Shucart got approval from the council in December to redevelop his property at 560 9th St. S. into a three-story building with upper-floor condos and underground parking — a concept virtually identical to McCabe's. Now, Shucart is readying to abandon the old plan and replace the project with a one-story building, including parking at one of the city garages. The working concept for the 11,200 square feet of retail includes restaurants and general retail, Shucart said.

The building specifics won't require approval from the council, Shucart said, and could break ground as early as September. Shucart will abandon his old condo concept if the judge doesn't make a ruling on McCabe's lawsuit by the time permits are issued for Shucart's retail building, Shucart said.

About the likelihood of the lawsuit being resolved before then, Shucart said, "I don't think it's going to happen."

"I think the lawsuit is going to get drug out for quite some time," he said. "We have some great tenants that want to be in the building. We believe in the downtown area and believe a high-quality single-story would be very successful for that project."

"I'm disappointed in the fact that we had to restart and redesign; excited in the fact it's a very simple, clean concept to understand," he added.

Mayor Bill Barnett, part of the five-member majority of the council that approved Shucart's project in December, said "there wasn't anything I didn't like about" the project and that it "remains to be seen" if Shucart's retail concept is a viable alternative.

"I think they're smart to do it," he said. "It's going to have an effect on what happens in the future."

Greg Hoffmann, a principal in the real estate company that owns 10 properties on Fifth Avenue, said in December his company was also planning to redevelop a lot on 4th Avenue South into a three-story building with 22 condos and underground parking. Hoffmann Commercial Real Estate hoped to have the construction finished in 2017, he said.

But no plans have been submitted to the city's planning department for that property, said Planning Director Robin Singer. Hoffmann declined to comment last week.

"I can't divulge anything yet," he said.

According to plans submitted to the city, the developer of a new project at 505 5th Ave. S., across the street from McCabe's development, is planning a three-story building that doesn't include underground parking and has a maximum height of 42 feet, per the charter limit.

The developer, David Harvey from Stone Creek Properties, also shared his plans with the Old Naples Association, whose members have been critical of overdevelopment.

The project will include eight condos on the upper floors and 7,100 square feet of retail on the ground floor, with on-site surface parking, plans show.

Harvey met for an hour last week with the ONA, the group McCabe accused of attempting to "damage" him through the lawsuit, even though the ONA isn't party to the suit.

Harvey, whose real estate company has offices in Austin, Chicago and Kansas City, declined to discuss the project's specifics, but said the meeting was a "common process" to learn more about a community's building design standards.

"We're developing for the community," he said. "They gave us good feedback on our design and development."

ONA President John Lehmann said his organization is "encouraged" by the plans that don't request deviations to building height.

"They were such night and day with what we've experienced to date," Lehmann said. "They laid it all out. They were very open."