St. Augustine commissioners worked late Monday evening, approving a request to rezone historic preservation land for parking for the already approved San Marco Hotel Planned Unit Development.
Commissioners voted 3-1 to approve the rezoning. Mayor Nancy Shaver opposed. Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline was not present. She had to leave before the hearing was over.
The hotel, which is yet to be constructed, is planned to be built near San Marco Avenue and West Castillo Drive. The development was already approved in 2006.
The owner, Kanti Patel, applied for an amendment to add more land to the development for parking by rezoning historic preservation district land.
Dozens of people spoke at the hearing.
Early in the meeting, some stood outside as they waited to speak because The Alcazar Room filled up.
The issue has stirred controversy among some residents who oppose rezoning historic preservation land to PUD zoning for parking, and who also question the basis for the amendment and occupancy numbers used to estimate how much parking would be required if it weren’t a PUD (PUDs make their own requirements).
The developer’s team said the project would reduce traffic, improve the look of the area and protect nearby residents from potential developments allowed by current zoning, such as restaurants.
The development as approved calls for providing 114 parking spaces via an underground parking garage.
Under the rezoning, property owner Kanti Patel hopes to provide 144 spaces in both surface parking and some parking underground in a tunnel that connects the hotel property with a parking lot.
James Whitehouse, the attorney for Patel, said Monday engineers had found a way to provide a minimum of 160 parking spaces.
He said the use would reduce traffic by getting rid of the daily trips from Barnacle Bills by getting rid of the restaurant.
Those who spoke were nearly evenly divided with those in support of the project and those against.
St. Augustine resident Melinda Rakoncay said Patel’s real reason for requesting the rezoning was that the underground garage would have cost millions more to build than had been expected.
Other speakers also raised concerns about rezoning historic preservation land for the purpose of parking.
“I simply want to see zoning stabilized, especially in the residential and HP district,” Rakoncay said.
She also said the added parking still isn’t enough.
“The HP5 Zoning should not be changed,” said west city resident B.J. Kalaidi. “The fact of the matter is the history of St. Augustine is for sale and this is the perfect example.”
Judith Seraphin, of Lincolnville, raised concerns about a non-contiguous PUD — one parking lot will be separated from the rest of the property by a small piece of land.
She said that means someone could, for instance, build a parking lot blocks away from a development.
“You’re setting a precedent that is going to haunt our city, and the developers are going to love it,” Seraphin said.
Whitehouse, in response to public comments about the PUD setting a precedent, said for zoning “each specific case is an individual case on its own merits.”
Some members of the business community and surrounding residents supported the project, citing benefits such as reducing the number of trips in and out of the lot by removing the Barnacle Bills restaurant and replacing it with parking.
“This project increases the tax base, it provides new jobs, and minimizes traffic,” said Isabelle Rodriguez, president and CEO of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce.
Joe Boles, St. Augustine resident and former mayor, said he favored the amendment to the PUD “because it seems to stabilize the area.” He also added it would save the area “hundreds of trips per day” by getting rid of Barnacle Bills.
He also spoke in support of the PUD process.
Check Wednesday’s St. Augustine Record for more details about the hearing and the meeting.