Redington Long Pier Appears Doomed After Town Rejects Land-use Change for Hotel

REDINGTON SHORES — The Redington Long Pier likely will be gone soon.

The Town Commission’s rejection of a land-use change for the pier property, needed to save the historic structure, appears to have sealed its fate.

State officials are in the process of getting bids to tear the structure down.

The commission voted 4 to 1 at its Oct. 9 meeting to deny a land-use change required to move forward a development proposal to build a 120-room, nine-story hotel on the pier property and save the deteriorating pier. Local real estate investor Ben Mallah and his business partner Tony Utegaard sought the local land-use change as the first step in a process that also required approvals by the county and state.

The commission’s action follows a previous recommendation by the town’s Planning and Zoning Board to reject changing the land use or rezoning the pier site. The land use would have changed from recreation open space to resort facility medium.

That would be inconsistent with the town’s comprehensive plan and would not be in the town’s best interests, said town planning consultant Dave Healey. He recommended that the land use and zoning changes requested by the developer be denied.

Prior to the land change vote, the commission heard from Healey and the developer, as well as residents both in favor and opposed to the proposal for the hotel and pier preservation.

Utegaard, the development partner, asked the commission not to vote on the land-use changes, which the P&Z board had recommended they reject. Instead, he wanted a “continuation” of the discussion, “so you can come together with us and seek a development agreement that would be a win-win situation for everyone.”

He said the hotel is necessary to provide the millions of dollars needed to fund reconstruction and upkeep of the pier. Also, the hotel would provide the town with nearly $80,000 in annual tax revenue.

The assertion that the hotel is needed to save the pier has been the theme of the developer’s presentations, both to the commission and previously to the Planning and Zoning Board.

Residents spoke both for and against the land-use changes needed by the developer. Many of the same speakers had been at the P&Z meeting. Those opposed to the change in land use outnumbered those in favor at both meetings.

Some residents saw the proposed nine-story hotel as too big for the small slice of land. They spoke of views blocked by the hotel, increases in traffic and noise, and the hotel being out of character for the town.

Speakers who favored the developer’s proposal were focused on saving the pier. Some told of their fond memories and fishing on the structure. They recognized the need for the hotel revenue to fund the pier reconstruction and upkeep.

“If a hotel is what it takes to keep the pier, I’m all for it,” said Sean Wert.

Melanie Frear said the hotel is beautiful and the pier is a landmark.

“It’s what makes our town special,” she said.

Cynthia Hoyt said she represented a significant number of residents who are 100 percent in favor of saving the pier.

“The proposal looks like it would be great for our locals as well as people coming to visit. It would be great to have another restaurant to have a dinner or beverage on the beach,” Hoyt said.

Robert Pergolizzi, representing the board of Angler’s Cove condos, opposed changing the land use and zoning of the property to allow the hotel, as did most of those who spoke.

“The current zoning allows reasonable use of the property,” Pergolizzi said. “A nine-story hotel is way out of character for what we have on the west side of Gulf Boulevard. The pier is a public nuisance and a safety hazard, and should be torn down.”

Christina Strache said open space “is a big priority.”

“Never in a million years would it have occurred to me to build a hotel on a 100-foot (wide) lot,” she said.

Amir DaBrir added, “I am concerned approving this will set a precedent that will encourage more of the same, and change the dynamic of this great town for the worse.”

Floodplain manager and P&Z board member Lisa Foster said If commissioners changed the comprehensive plan and zoning, they would change the town completely.

“Changing the density here is really irresponsible. I would ask you to please consider not approving this land-use change,” she said.

After the citizens’ comments, the developer gave his concluding remarks. He again asked for a continuance or action to table the land-use decision to come up with a compromise development agreement.

The commission voted 4 to 1 to deny a land-use change for the property. Mayor MaryBeth Henderson and commissioners Pat Drumm, Jeff Neal, and Michael Robinson voted to deny the change, and commissioner Tom Kapper was opposed to denying the change.

“This is the only game we’ve got going in town right now. We can’t afford to do a park, and the state won’t buy the land. It’s just going to sit there. So, if there’s another way to work something out, less rooms or whatever, can we work it out?” Kapper said.

Robinson said he didn’t want to be held hostage over the pier to build something that is inconsistent with the comprehensive plan.

“This proposal is so far outside our comprehensive plan, I’m not interested in entering into a discussion about changing our plan,” Robinson said.

Drumm made similar remarks.

Neal told the developer that he can resubmit a plan and encouraged him to come up with another idea.

An approval of the land-use and zoning changes for the pier property were needed for the developer’s proposal to move forward.

Town Attorney James Denhardt said after the meeting that the town’s rejection of the land-use change means the demolition of the pier “has been decided.”