Removing the city's limits on building height and hotel densities could change the character of Naples, residents and council members said at a Monday workshop. But those changes could also spur downtown development, Mayor John Sorey said.
A decision on each front will be vetted by the city's new consultants, who were hired Monday to evaluate a possible extension of the Community Redevelopment Agency's sunset date.
Sorey's push for a change in the city's height limit fell flat when council said they did not support changing it.
Those in favor of the three-story, 42-foot height limit linked it to the city's character and way of life.
"The city has a responsibility to those people who came here after the height amendment," said resident Erika Hinson. "You're going to change the quality of life for all those people who came after it."
Established by voter referendum in 2000, the limit does not apply to residential structures such as condominiums. A second discussion at Monday's workshop to remove density limitations on city hotels, which otherwise meet city code, was also supported by Sorey and three other council members.
Sorey said an increased height limit could draw businesses, including hotels, that would otherwise locate to different parts of the county.
"Part of my motivation is it's very difficult to make the hotels work at 42 foot ... We're poised now maybe for some economic growth," he said. "I personally think we need more motel space. We have less now than we have historically. We need more hotel space to keep people in our city."
Adam Benigni, senior planner with the city, said he didn't see a problem with removing the density limit on hotels because the code still requires that a hotel meet parking standards, lot coverage requirements and setbacks. But current code does not allow for a variance to density limits.
"If they can come in and meet all of their parking requirements for a 100-unit hotel but code only allows 50 units ... I don't see why you couldn't support something like that," he said. "I don't like having a density cap on a commercial use. It seems counter productive."
City code now limits hotels to 26 units in most city districts.
Councilwoman Dee Sulick said she has not heard any interest in changing the city's height limit since it was established and that the economy is returning on its own. She did not want to see the city change its density limitations for hotels. She feared requirements that could lead to smaller rooms would "cheapen the brand."
"Things are coming back," she said, referencing an increase in building permits in the city for 2012. "Rather than us trying to change the city, we should let things happen in their own pace and time."
The density discussion will be brought before council again for a formal vote to change city code, after four council members voted to have the limit removed. The height limit could be revisited in October when the city's new consultants issue their report on whether to extend the Community Redevelopment Agency's timeline.
Since 1994, the agency has collected a tax increment based on property values within its boundaries used to redevelop blighted areas. The agency is set to stop collecting money in 2024, but extending the sunset date would mean the city could continue to collect money to finish a list of projects it has yet to get around to.
The agency, which is made up of the same members as city council, voted to award a contract to its consultant of choice Monday.
Calvin, Giordano & Associates, Inc., a Fort Lauderdale-based firm, will receive $145,500 in exchange for a detailed report on the pros and cons of extending the CRA to complete existing projects and any new ones that might come up.
Councilman Sam Saad, who chairs the CRA, said lumping the height discussion into the consultant's scope of work makes the most sense.
"We have a huge opportunity ... to hear from smart people about new vision for downtown Naples," Saad said. "Whether that includes a change to the 42 feet. I think is something we should hear from the experts first."