Here is an aritcle published by the St. Pete Tribune on March 20th – written by: Jerome Stockfish
MADEIRA BEACH — The Tom Stuart Causeway is the gateway to this beach city, taking motorists over the Intracoastal Waterway past a vacant lot, condo complexes and a 1950s-era strip mall with aqua awnings that is home to a tattoo parlor, nail spa, e-cigarette shop and other small businesses.
The entrance to Madeira Beach could change dramatically if a pair of Pinellas County developers succeed with plans for those tired properties. Picture three large hotels up to 11 stories tall with 700 new rooms. More than 160 new condo units. New retail development to the tune of 63,000 square feet.
New marinas and a dockmaster building. Pedestrian-friendly walkways, a public plaza and an overpass spanning busy Gulf Boulevard.
It’s not a vision or a pipe dream. On Wednesday, the city council approved a rezoning of the 5-acre vacant lot at the bridge’s western apron for the Holiday Isles complex, a 548,000-square-foot mix of hotel rooms, condominiums and retail space.
In the coming weeks, the council will decide on the 7-acre Madeira Beach Town Center complex, a 575,000-square-foot project with a similar hotel-condo-retail mix running along the causeway, also known as 150th Avenue, from a 9/11 memorial park to Gulf Boulevard and a portion of Madeira Way.
“This is the most exciting time to be part of something in Madeira Beach in a long time,” city manager Shane Crawford told city council members. “Cities across the state and the county yearn for development options like this.”
For perspective, consider that the total value of taxable property in Madeira Beach is $987 million. The Town Center’s $100 million price tag and Holiday Isles’ $80 million represent more than 18 percent — nearly one fifth — of that total.
In Tampa, it would take more than three Jeff Vinik/Strategic Property Partners mega-developments to register a similar impact in that city. (SPP, a partnership of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, is planning a $2 billion, 40-acre multiuse project in downtown Tampa.)
“The economic stimulus that this will create is outrageous, and it’s not because of the size, it’s because of what’s going to be developed,” said Crawford.
But the prospect of such striking change has many in the community outraged, chiefly over building height, traffic impact and lack of open space.
“What they’re planning to put down here is basically a canyon of high-rise buildings with very little green space and virtually no landscaping,” said Bill Gay, a resident of the nearby Snug Harbor condominium complex. “It’s not in keeping with the neighborhood. It’s not Madeira Beach, it’s Clearwater Beach development.”
Lawyers Ken Weiss and Tim Weber, who have beat back aggressive development in other beach towns, are working with the Madeira Beach opponents on potential strategies.
City officials “just don’t listen,” Weiss said. “You had people objecting to the density and to the height, and it was just as if nobody had heard them.”
Developers “are just insistent on putting as much concrete on the beach as they can possibly fit without any consideration of the traffic situation,” he said.
Already-crowded 150th Avenue, which can get backed up to Gulf Boulevard when the causeway drawbridge is opened, would feed both new developments.
“There’s always going to be people that do not want change. We understand that,” said Scott Brainard, a lawyer representing Madeira Beach Development Co., established by Karns Enterprises of Treasure Island to build the Town Center. “There are things that people just don’t want. But if you don’t progress, you’re going backward. From our perspective, this is a good thing for the community. We understand there are people that don’t want this, but we think the benefit to the community as a whole outweighs the down side to some.”
Karns is known as a luxury home developer along the beaches and was involved in the Del Mar West condominium in Indian Shores and the Brentwood assisted living facility in St. Petersburg.
Residents have protested at planning and zoning and council meetings, but it appears the attitude toward development in coastal towns is evolving.
Madeira Beach has revised its comprehensive plan and approved a Town Center Redevelopment Plan and land development regulations to address hotel and tourist lodging and to allow flexible development agreements.
The city typically allows hotels three floors over parking, but the new rules allow for additional rooms or building height in exchange for extra parking or environmentally friendly design features.
“The city did a splendid job developing the special area plan specific to the Town Center,” said Katie Cole, an attorney representing James Holton, the Madeira Beach developer of the Holiday Isles complex. “This project complies with that vision and seeks to further the vision that the city outlined.”
Holton has a law firm in Madeira Beach that specializes in real estate law.
The Holiday Isles complex, on the site that once held a Leverock’s seafood restaurant, would include five separate buildings from five to 10 stories tall. It would include 272 hotel and condo/hotel units; 68 condominiums; 18,000 square feet of commercial space, including a 200-seat restaurant; marina; and parking for 525 cars.
Plans indicate the Madeira Town Center would include two eight-story condominium buildings of 45 units each and parking for 95 cars each; an upgrade to the existing 43-slip marina with new seawall and docks and a one- or two-story dockmaster building; an 11-story hotel with 180 rooms and 5,000 square feet of retail space; and an 11-story “recognizable landmark at the heart of Madeira Beach” with 250 rooms, 40,000 square feet of retail and restaurant, and 400 parking spaces.
Which brings the question: Can sleepy Madeira Beach support all that new residential and, in particular, hotel development?
“We have done market research and that research indicates there’s a need,” said the Town Center’s Brainard. “Madeira Beach lost a lot of its hotels to condos, so in that space between the north end of the Gulf beaches and the south end, there’s not a lot of hotel rooms.”
Crawford said he feared that “if we say no or give them the runaround,” the prime properties might not be developed to their potential. It’s been rumored that big-box retailers have been sniffing around the Leverock’s site.
“This is something that’s going to define Madeira Beach for a long time,” said Crawford. “People were starting to look at this as a disappointment, a problem, a detriment.”
The new developments, he said, are “very citizen-friendly. This is not just for the tourist. This is for the people of Madeira Beach as well. What we’ve got now is not what anybody would envision. It’s time.”