The Flagler Beach City Commission tonight approved a special exception for the siting of a hotel in the heart of town, at South 2nd Street and Old Moody Boulevard, on the acreage previously used as a hotel but for a 48-year interregnum, and its use as a farmer’s market for many years since.
As at the planning board earlier this month, The vote was unanimous. The discussion–what there was of it–took all of eight minutes. There was no discussion among commissioners, no controversy, and aside from one public voice opposed, no dissent, clearing yet another hurdle for the planned hotel.
To be sure, Thursday’s action was procedural: “What you’re finding is that this use fits this property. What it looks like comes down the road,” Drew Smith, the city attorney, said. In other words, can a hotel be located on the 1.3-acre lot, vacant since 1972. Commissioners couldn’t very well say no, since the Flagler Beach Hotel stood there from 1925 to 1972, and the zoning allows it, even though it post-dates the hotel’s demolition. Put simply, the hotel is permitted by right.
“It’s highly suspect as to why it’s a special exception, but that’s where we’re at,” Larry Torino, the city’s planner, said.
But city code adds that extra regulatory layer, giving the city commission authority to approve the special exception, as it did Thursday. The next step will be more interesting and possibly more animated. That’s when the site plan will come before the commission, showing the hotel’s architectural drawings and its actual footprint. But when the city’s planning board took up the matter earlier this month, it had the drawings in hand and recommended the special exception also with hardly any controversy.
The plan presented to the planning board on Dec. 1 projects a three-story, 97-room hotel (with a fourth level for a ballroom and vast balcony) and 10 town houses that would be rented to short-term vacationers. Veterans Park would remain, but would see some renovations (the city owns it, but the Forehands own the air rights, preventing any development there and ensuring that the same view that hotel guests enjoyed from the property before the 1970s will be there in perpetuity, for future guests.)
The hotel would be designed by Anjon Resort Homes’s Joseph Pasquale. He did not address the commission, as he had the planning board.
“I’ve been working with the Forehands on this project a little bit,” Dennis Bayer, the Flagler Beach attorney representing the property owners, Zoee and William Forehand, told commissioners. “But I’ve also, looking back at the history of Flagler Beach, have been coming here since 1979, moved into the area in 1985. We all knew sooner or later that that commercial piece of property was going to be developed, and I think the Forehands have gone the extra mile to find the proper proposal for the property. We’re not getting into the site plan itself, but tonight it’s a first step.”
He asked for the commission to approve the special exception, of course, downplaying the significance of that particular step, and added: “One of the big benefits I see of a hotel on that piece of property, it’s finally going to give us that boost for our community redevelopment area. It’s truly been stagnant since the recession. It’s going to really help bring in the money that we can use to help revitalize downtown, provide additional parking, complete the undergrounding of the utilities and all the other things that will make us a vital downtown area that will be a benefit to the community.” He said the project could kick-start other redevelopment projects.
Zoee Forehand added a few words, saying “we’re not reinventing the wheel.”
The lone voice opposed spoke of roads and dunes that “cant handle it,” with plenty of trampling and traffic going on now, but as she spoke, Jane Mealy, who chairs the commission, said she was cutting her off as the issues she was discussion were more suited for the future site plan discussion.