Plans call for the storied hotel to be torn down and rebuilt as a smaller, world-class resort — and for luxury residential towers to be added on both sides of Gulf Shore Boulevard.
Vonna Keomanyvong, email@example.com; 239-213-5380
The city Planning Board unanimously approved a proposal Wednesday to redevelop the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.
The City Council, which will have the final say, is expected to vote on the proposal April 17.
“We appreciate the unanimous vote of approval today and the meaningful support from many project neighbors and the community,” said Kim Richards, CEO of The Athens Group. “The planning advisory board members and city staff were thorough in their review of the project, and we look forward to presenting our plans to City Council next month.”
The Athens Group plans to tear down the beach hotel and build a smaller resort and add residential condos, but the proposal has run into opposition over its height and proximity to the road and other buildings. Community members also have expressed concern regarding the preservation of the golf course.
The board postponed a vote on the project last month to give the developer time to address questions and comments from city staff and residents.
Since the proposal first appeared before the planning board, the developer has made some changes to address those concerns, including:
- Stipulating that no more than 94 dwelling units will be on the west side of Gulf Shore Boulevard North.
- Implementing a negative easement that would preserve the golf course as open space in perpetuity.
However, planning board member Chae duPont noted that “open space” has a wide-ranging definition under the proposed negative easement.
“Open space now includes golf courses, but it also includes putting and practice range and facilities, clubhouses, driving ranges, golf academies, golf man facilities, golf cart charging stations, pro shops (and) snack bars,” she said. “It also includes sport courts (such as tennis courts or pickleball courts) without limitations. Those are all included in the definition of open space … and there aren’t any percentage limitations of those structures.”
Ned Fryer — president of the Old Naples Association, part of a coalition of homeowners associations that have expressed support for the project as long as the developers adequately address the group’s primary concerns, including preservation of the golf course — echoed duPont’s concerns.
“The permitted uses in the easement document are way, way too broad, and we respectfully ask that they be limited,” he said.
John Passidomo, the Naples attorney representing the developer, said the language simply gives the developer flexibility, but he’d be willing to tighten it if that would put the board members and community at ease.
“This provides the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances over time,” he said. “Is there any intent to put 35-acres of tennis courts on the property? No. And if you want to get expressly down into the weeds and prohibit that, we’re very receptive to anything of that sort.”
Opponents: Traffic would increase
Traffic has been another concern.
According to the project developer, hotel rooms generate more traffic than residences, so reducing the size of the hotel will offset the addition of the condos and actually reduce traffic in the area.
However, city staff have some concerns about the developer’s calculations regarding the hotel’s number of employees.
Gregg Strakaluse, streets and stormwater director, said the developer used standard, city-approved methodology when calculating the number of daily trips, but that methodology assumes there will be about one employee per room.
Since the proposed Naples Beach Hotel would be comparable to the nearby, five-star Ritz-Carlton, it’s likely the hotel would have more employees to provide a higher level of service, Strakaluse said.
Jeff Perry, senior transportation planner and project manager with the Stantec consulting firm, modified the calculations to double the number of employees, and said traffic still would decrease.
He also said increasing the number of employees would allow the hotel to offer more on-site services, which would reduce the need for the condo residents and hotel guests to travel off site.
“There’s a trade-off between the additional employees and the services that they’ll provide,” Perry said Wednesday. “The intent of having those services is to keep the guest on site and create a higher internal capture that encourages more people to stay. They won’t have to go somewhere else to go to the beach or play golf or tennis or eat at a five-star restaurant.”
But planning board member Bruce Selfon still had some doubts.
“I just don’t buy it,” he said. “I just don’t believe that we’re going to be in a negative situation. The kind of people who come to a five-star resort are not only going to play golf on the Naples Beach Hotel. I think that people are going to be leaving (and) I don’t think we can take the chance that you might be catastrophically wrong, unintentionally, in estimating the trip generation here.”
The proposed heights of the residential buildings, another concern shared by board members and residents, have not changed. They would be four stories to seven stories high, although the bottom of the first floors would start 18 or 19 feet above the ground, as required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for flood protection.
They would be 11½ feet higher than permitted by the city’s code, to give each condo unit a floor-to-ceiling height of 12 feet, said a representative of the developer.
The project also would require a variance for the setback of the buildings because they’d be closer to the street than city codes allow. However, the developer agreed Wednesday to increase the north side setback near Surfside from 36 feet to 42 feet to bring that part of the project into compliance.
The planning board heard about three hours of public comment Wednesday, with residents arguing both in favor of and against the project.
“For all of us that have used (the Beach Hotel) and grown up with it, I’m encouraging you to (approve this),” said longtime Naples High School football coach Bill Kramer. “The alternative for much of this is much, much worse than 11½ feet. They’re trying to give all they can back to the community, and I can’t think of anyone who’d think that’s a bad thing.”
Others weren’t so sure.
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“I’m still a little bit concerned that the building’s a colossal building next door to Surfside, not just in height, but in terms of the building size itself,” said Joe Basili, Surfside resident. “It’d be great if we could get them to build to code. Wouldn’t that be something?”
However, Passidomo demonstrated what that could mean: 12 seven-story buildings and 157 homes on the golf course.
Planning board member duPont noted that the developer would be giving up millions of dollars by not building out the golf course, so it’s reasonable for them to ask for something in return.
“Doesn’t there need to be some sort of compromise by the residents in order to receive the golf course kept in perpetuity?” she asked. “Is what they’re asking for really so much if you look at it in those terms? I don’t think it is.”
The proposed Naples Beach Hotel redevelopment also was the subject of debate at two recent Naples City Council candidate forums, with candidates Ted Blankenship, Ray Christman, George Dondanville and Bill Moss echoing the planning board’s concerns about the heights of the proposed buildings.
According to the redevelopment proposal, the hotel’s meeting space would be cut in half but updated. HB’s on the Gulf, the hotel’s signature restaurant, and the Sunset Beach Bar & Grill would be renovated and would reopen to the public, continuing the hotel’s longstanding community connections, said Richards, CEO of The Athens Group.
The Watkins family, which has owned the hotel for decades, plans to continue operating the hotel and golf club through the 2020-21 tourist season. After that, ownership would transition to The Athens Group, which would redevelop the property in phases.
Richards said construction could begin in 2021 and the new facilities could open by Thanksgiving 2023.
Naples Daily News business reporter Laura Layden contributed to this report.
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