Reduced height and number of rooms are among the changes

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At 7 p.m., Tuesday, a lively audience of about 100 filled Rose History Auditorium. They laughed. They applauded. They cursed. But they weren’t watching a performance, no, they were listening to a presentation about the proposed Veterans Community Park hotel project.

Small Brothers, LLC – the project’s developer – has revamped the plans for the hotel based on prior community feedback; specifically, Small Brothers has reduced the height of the building from 95 feet to 75 feet – which would not require a code variance – reduced the number of rooms from 165 to 153 and agreed to pay the city $1 million in exchange for the park's intensity credits rather than add $3.5 million worth of enhancements to Veterans Community Park.

Bob Mulhere and Patrick Neale represented the developer at the town hall style meeting, and – after briefly presenting and explaining the above changes – took questions from the audience.

Many residents expressed concern about the type of cliental the hotel – which, at approximately $175 per night off-season and up to $300 per night during season, has been dubbed “moderately-priced” – would attract. They also questioned whether anyone would even want to stay at a hotel that’s not on the water nor even close to beach access.

“Obviously the folks who look at these opportunities do their homework,” Mulhere said. “There’s a market for a moderately-priced hotel [and] if it was on the water, it wouldn’t be moderately priced.”

“There were studies done by professional hotel management consultants that prove that there’s a need for a hotel at this price level here on Marco,” Neale added, noting that the Marriott’s recent conversion to the luxury-tier JW brand has put it out of the realm of affordability for some families and other vacationers.

Neale then assured residents that the hotel will be one of the three “flag” brands: Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt, to which one gentleman in attendance called “bull****.”

“They’ve already signed the deal,” Neale responded.

Several residents also mentioned the controversy regarding whether Veterans Community Park even has commercial intensity credits that could be included in the developer’s PUD.

At the Sept. 2 Planning Board meeting – which is when the project was officially introduced to the public – some of the board members said they were under the impression that City Council had retired all of the park’s density and intensity credits as part of its decision to include density reduction in the city’s comprehensive plan.

That uncertainty has since become a rallying cry for those opposed to the hotel, despite the fact that city staff – including the city manager – has confirmed that City Council never passed an ordinance or resolution removing density or intensity from the park, a point Mulhere reiterated during the meeting.

Mulhere also noted that those credits are absolutely essential to the project.

“We cannot build a hotel that’s large enough to be viable on that piece of property without the city,” he said.

During Monday’s City Council meeting the councilors discussed repealing Ordinance 15-10, which would prohibit density and intensity credit transfers; however, since the Veterans Community Park hotel project proposal is already pending, a repeal of the ordinance would not effect it.

“We’re confusing this with a current political issue that’s got a lot of people concerned and I understand that concern,” councilor Bob Brown said. “But we shouldn’t be trying to work this over one political entity that’s out there.”

If the councilors want to seriously consider re-examining or possibly repealing Ordinance 15-10, he said, then they should do so from an objective standpoint, taking into consideration both the history of the ordinance and the role it may play in the island’s future.

Mulhere reminded residents at Tuesday’s town hall that the piece of property near the park is already zoned for commercial development. So – if Small Brothers’ application is denied – another developer could build something else on the property, and as long as it follows the city’s code, the public will have no say in the matter whatsoever.

“Something’s going to go there and in this case we’re standing here telling you what’s going to go there,” he said. “You at least know what we’re proposing because we’re laying it out there for you. I get it, but unless you’re going to go in and take away all of the private property rights that exist on Marco Island … people are going to build.”

Mulhere also reminded residents that the developer truly believes the hotel will be beneficial to Marco Island, which is why he wants to build it.

“The whole purpose of this is to improve the community,” he said, to which the audience responded with boisterous laughter.

The project is currently scheduled to appear before the Planning Board on Feb. 3.

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