Mayor breaks tie to end marathon session
Lisa Conley Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA
The Naples City Council approved the Old Naples Hotel project after nearly nine hours of presentations, questions and discussion during its meeting Wednesday.
The development will replace the long-vacant Third Street Plaza, often described as an eyesore in the otherwise- bustling Third Street South shopping and dining district in downtown Naples.
Residents and business owners packed into the council’s chambers Wednesday afternoon and the meeting quickly turned into a standing-room - only event.
Many supported the project as proposed, but nearby merchants and residents argued that the hotel is too big and will have too much impact on Third Street and the surrounding neighborhood.
“We are in favor of a hotel, but we are in favor of a boutique hotel without deviation to our land code,” Naples resident Leigh Kistler said. “We have codes for a reason.”
Another resident noted that if the councilors approve this project, which requires both height and lot coverage deviations, then they're setting a bad precedent for developers and future projects.
Roger Williams, who lives near the project site, is one Naples resident in favor of the hotel.
“I’m delighted that such an attractive and productive addition can be made to our neighborhood,” he said. “I’ve considered many alternatives to this project and find them unappealing and unattractive.”
Councilwoman Linda Penniman agreed.
“This is the most beautiful project for this area that I’ve ever seen,” she said.
The approved plan for the hotel shows 109 rooms, down from the original 118. There's 34,500 square feet of usable open space, representing more than 37 percent of the land it will sit on.
The project also includes two retail shops, an indoor cafe with outdoor dining, a rooftop pool, a spa and a corner sundry shop.
John Passidomo, the Naples attorney representing the developers, the Camaliers, said their top priorities for the project were to achieve design excellence and to minimize commercial impact on the surrounding area, which is why the development doesn't include a full-service restaurant or such intensive uses as ballrooms or conference rooms.
“It’s a very special piece of property and the process of engaging the community in this process has taken a very long time,' he said. 'We've gone through about six or eight significant changes.'
To fit the project on the site, the developers asked for several deviations and conditional uses that include building parts of the project above the city's 42-foot height limit and increasing the allowable lot coverage by 5 percent.
Additionally, the developers sought approval of a 'shared parking plan,' which would allow them to provide about 75 fewer spaces than city code requires if the proposed uses are considered separately. Plans show a valet-only garage with 124 parking spots.
According to city code, mixed-use buildings, such as the one proposed, must provide the same amount of parking that would be required if each use was considered separately. In contrast, a shared parking plan calculates the parking needs based on the project as a whole.
Councilwoman Ellen Siegel questioned the project's parking plan, noting that it doesn't take into account people who might drive to visit hotel guests or utilize the property's common spaces, such as the courtyard and cafe. She also said the developers did not follow the city's code when calculating the parking needs.
'I'm not going to accept your statement that there's adequate parking and that isn't going to create traffic problems,' she said.
John Dorsett of Walker Parking Consultants assured council that the 124 spaces are enough to accommodate 100 percent occupancy of both the hotel's guest rooms and commercial aspects during the busiest hour of the busiest day of the busiest month, which realistically will never happen, he said.
In May 2017 the city's design review board gave the project a unanimous thumbs-up before it was scaled back to address neighborhood concerns about its size.
Last month the Naples Planning AdvisoryBoard voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the downsized project.
A few weeks after the planning advisory board meeting, the developers submitted revised plans to the city eliminating the need to use public parking spots on Broad Avenue for deliveries, as previously proposed, which had sparked neighborhood concerns. As a result, the developers dropped their request for a deviation to use the public right of way for that purpose.
Pickup services will be in the rear driveway for laundry, recyclables and garbage.
City staff recommended approval of the project as proposed, including the shared parking plan, the height exception and the deviation on lot coverage, subject to about a dozen conditions.
Council voted 4-3 to approve the hotel after the marathon meeting, with Siegel, Penniman and councilman Terry Hutchison dissenting, citing concerns about the requested deviations and the negative community response surrounding the project. Mayor Bill Barnett cast the tie-breaking vote.
Vice Mayor Gary Price said he wasn't too fond of the project heading into the meeting, but the presentations from the developer and city staff changed his mind.
“I truly believe that when it’s all built, it will be something that we’re proud of,” he said.
The hotel plans to have a soft opening around Thanksgiving 2020 and be fully operational by season 2021.