After getting rezoning approval to add surface parking, developers of the San Marco Hotel in downtown St. Augustine could move swiftly.
“It’s not something that they’re waiting to do. It should move forward in haste at this point,” James Whitehouse, attorney for property owner Kanti Patel, said Tuesday.
The City Commission voted 3-1 Monday night to approve rezoning land from HP-5 (historic preservation) and adding it to the San Marco Hotel Planned Unit Development zoning to create surface parking.
The development is required to begin by February of 2021, but it should be underway earlier than that, Whitehouse said. The next step step is to get a certificate of appropriateness this month from the city’s Historic Architectural Review Board for the parking lot design.
Mayor Nancy Shaver voted against the rezoning after questioning Whitehouse about the benefits of changing the zoning for parking. Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline was not present for the vote because she had to leave for an emergency.
The intent of the HP-5 zoning district is “to provide a mix of residential and nonresidential uses compatible with the existing historic structures and the district’s relationship with surrounding neighborhoods and traffic circulation,” according to City Code.
The San Marco Hotel project, which is expected to bring 89 hotel rooms near West Castillo Drive and San Marco Avenue, was approved in 2006 and amended in 2016.
The hotel plan had called for an underground parking garage and 114 spaces.
Because of engineering concerns about an underground garage, Patel applied to have surface parking instead, Whitehouse said. Others said the real issue was the cost of the garage, and people spoke against rezoning historic preservation land for parking.
The plan presented Monday calls for at least 160 parking space with surface parking lots and some parking underground as part of a tunnel connecting hotel and a surface parking lot.
Whitehouse said the project would provide certainty for neighbors and protect them from some other possible uses of the site under current zoning, such as restaurants and banks and offices. Some neighbors voiced support for the development.
“We really believe that this is a positive project,” Whitehouse said. “It really meets the goals of the city.”
The contentious and lengthy hearing draw more than 40 people to comment on the issue, and some stood outside to wait for a turn to speak.
Some opposed rezoning historic preservation land for the PUD, while others said the project would cut down on traffic by eliminating Barnacle Bills and would be a better and more comfortable fit for neighbors.
Other than Shaver, commissioners agreed.
Commissioner Leanna Freeman said Patel wants to do a parking lot where there is currently parking, while providing less in-and-out traffic, it’s already a commercial area, and a longtime nearby resident spoke in support of the project.
“Upholding our zoning is … really critical to both businesses and residents. … I just feel we have to uphold our zoning,” Shaver said.
“Would you like to outlaw PUDs … because right now PUD is a form of zoning,” Commissioner Leanna Freeman said.
“There’s a bar to be met. … What I’m saying is that I don’t feel that bar is met,” Shaver said.
“This is the only HP zoning that requires parking,” Commissioner Roxanne Horvath said. “And as Leanna said this is a PUD and we’re trying to have the developer provide the parking, so I don’t understand why you’re not getting there.”
San Marco Avenue
City commissioners supported a plan to add bicycle lanes and a transit lane on part of San Marco Avenue, while keeping on-street parking in much of the Uptown area.
The plan, supported by commissioners Monday night, is to add a northbound bicycle lane and a combined southbound bicycle and shuttle lane to stretch from S.R. 16 to Hope Street, eliminating on-street parking along that stretch.
From Hope Street to West Castillo Drive, bicycles and a shuttle would merge into normal traffic and on-street parking would remain.
However, the FDOT is planning to remove some parking along that stretch to improve safety by giving drivers a clearer view of oncoming traffic as they turn onto San Marco Avenue.
“We are going to be working with [the FDOT] to minimize the amount of parking that they remove,” said City Manager John Regan, who plans to send a letter to the agency supporting the city’s plan.
The transit lane would only be used by shuttles and only during highly congested times such as events, officials said. As part of the changes, the city plans to add parking in the surrounding area, including metered and paid parking lots.
In other business
Commissioners set the proposed millage rate at 7.5 mills, the same as the current rate, for the next fiscal year. The rate, which can still be changed, equals $7.50 per $1,000 of taxable property value. The first budget hearing will be 5:05 p.m. on Sept. 7 at City Hall.
Commissioners this week also approved an amendment to the Lincolnville Redevelopment Plan, the document that guides spending in the Lincolnville Community Redevelopment Area. The CRA collects a portion of property tax revenue from the area and uses that to fund housing repairs and other programs. The amendment adds new initiatives to the plan, such as supporting the creation of a Community Land Trust to create more affordable housing.