Clearwater Point residents object to planned hotel project

Decade Properties wants to build new lodging at the site of Chart House Suites on the far end of Clearwater Beach, but locals say it's too big for their neighborhood.

Decades Properties attorney Brian J. Aungst tells the Clearwater City Council that Chart House owners have a right to an additional 27 hotel rooms under the city's Beach By Design plan. [John Guerra photo]
Decades Properties attorney Brian J. Aungst tells the Clearwater City Council that Chart House owners have a right to an additional 27 hotel rooms under the city's Beach By Design plan. [John Guerra photo]

CLEARWATER — Dozens of residents fighting a proposed hotel at Clearwater Point on Clearwater Beach recently filled the Main Library to plead their case before the City Council.

The residents, wearing white T-shirts declaring “Preserve Clearwater Point” and “Families and Taxpayers Matter,” urged the council to protect their community’s quiet character.

Decade Properties, which owns The Edge Hotel, Pier House 60 Marina Hotel, Holiday Inn Harborview, and a long list of restaurants and other businesses in Clearwater and the Tampa Bay area, wants to demolish its four-story Chart House Suites property and replace it with an 80-foot-tall, 60-room hotel. An existing 26-slip dock at the 850 Bayway Blvd. property will stay, with 10 slips for hotel guests and 16 for lease by the public.

Clearwater Point residents told the council the larger hotel, with 80 parking spaces, will destroy the character of the neighborhoods on the north end of the Sand Key Bridge. Residents of the various condominiums on the point — with names like Marina House, Island House, Sailmaster, and Shipmaster —say they like living away from the hotel canyons on Clearwater’s main beach.

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Carmen LaBianca, a retired elementary school principal, told the council he bought his condo in Marina House 25 years ago in anticipation of retirement. He urged the council to protect the serenity of the Point.

“It’s so wonderful to walk the seawall, to see the beautiful dolphins come right up to you, and (my family is) so excited about a place they can come for their vacation,” LaBianca said. “This has been a beautiful place to live, a beautiful place to retire; the serenity is unbelievable. It’s a place where I want to spend the rest of my life. Don’t take that from me.”

To build the 60-room hotel, Decade Properties is asking the city to grant it 27 more rooms from the city’s Beach By Design hotel density reserve to add to the 33 rooms the existing Chart House already has.

Attorney Brian J. Aungst Jr., who represents Decades Properties, told the council the developer will do what it can to reduce the hotel’s effect on the neighborhood’s character.

“There is no restaurant, there is no bar, there is no meeting space, there is no public parking,’’ he said. “All there is, is a pool on the fifth level.”

To assuage resident concerns of noise from the pool deck, Aungst said the developer would bar amplified music — and put the promise in the development agreement with the city.

Robert Chapman, the attorney representing Clearwater Point residents, argues that Beach by Design, the city’s special area plan governing Clearwater Beach, doesn’t allow the 27 units for a hotel in the Clearwater Point area.

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“Our point is, when Beach by Design was created, there was a geographical limitation,” he said. “Why now, after 20 years, and nearly 2,000 units … why would we put it now in a residential area?”

City Planner Mark Parry later said zoning rules allow Chart House to request more rooms.

“The property is zoned ‘Tourist,’’’ he said.

The City Council directed city staff to work with Decade Properties to adjust the development agreement to limit public parking, state there will be no bar or restaurant on the premises, and that will promise to have no amplified music or entertainment from the pool deck or elsewhere. The document already limits the hotel’s height to 80 feet.

The council will vote whether to approve the additional hotel rooms for Decade Properties on Feb. 7, Parry said.

Whether Decade Properties can satisfy the concerns of Clearwater Point residents remains to be seen.

“The building sat empty for most of the 1980s and all of a sudden it was a hotel,” said Susan Watt, whose family has owned property at Clearwater Point for decades. “It was a small boutique hotel —manageable. Now they want to demolish it, put up this great, 210-foot concrete monolith. It’s a disaster.”

This article was originally published in the Tampa Bay Times on Jan. 28, 2019.

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John Guerra is a correspondent for Tampa Bay Newspapers.