The Scenic A1A Pride Committee this afternoon voted 7-3 to reject a plan by Salamander Hotels and Resorts to build a 198-room oceanfront hotel to replace the slimmer existing facility at Hammock Beach Resort.
The vote is a setback for Salamander, which has stressed transparency and been holding a series of meetings with community groups–and club members, in April–to win over the Hammock community before the plan begins its trek through county government. Salamander President Prem Devadas was present at one such meeting, before the Hammock Conservation Coalition Tuesday evening, where the group’s membership was broadly inquisitive but just as broadly skeptical of the plan despite assurances that it is radically different from an earlier attempt to build up the property there.
In 2010, Lubert Adler, the real estate investment company that owns the property, planned to build a 541-apartment development on the site, re-routing 16th Road, which provides beach access to the Hammock community in accordance with the former Ginn development agreement that gave rise to the resort. Devadas Tuesday evening took pains to disassociate Salamander from that plan, which the county successfully fought and defeated in a administrative decision ultimately upheld by the Florida cabinet.
“It was a land grab and I would have ruled against it as well,” Devadas told the assembly Tuesday evening. Nevertheless, he defended the size of the new proposal, scaled down as it is, as the company’s business plan is predicated on a certain number of rooms and amenities, including a 5400 square feet ballroom that can seat up to 350 people. Middleburg, Va.-based Salamander Hotels and Resorts manages and builds high-end hotels and resorts. It took over management of Hammock Beach Resort in late October 2011. The 198 rooms are what’s needed “to make it work,” Devadas said.
“We do look for new development that has context-sensitive design,” Ann Wilson, who chairs the Scenic Pride committee, said. “It’s a buzz word, it basically means that whatever you build does fit in the location.” Forty-eight hours later, she was not convinced that Salamander’s plan fits, and was in the majority that voted to reject it. “If you are on the beach in the Hammock and you look up on the dunes, you see single family homes, you do not see a hotel or large development, and the lodge that’s there clearly fits in with the design and aspect of single family homes,” Wilson said today.
Today’s vote of the A1A committee is only advisory, as far as the county is concerned. But A1A’s membership represents a powerful constituency in the Hammock, as its previous displays of political muscle indicate. The Salamander plan is scheduled to go before the county’s planning board later this month (the plan has already gone before the county’s Technical Review Committee). The planning board will make a recommendation to the County Commission. Only at that level will the application for the Planned Unit Development, or PUD, see a vote that will decide the fate of the proposal.