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Palmetto at Odds on Proposed Hotel Site


PALMETTO – Talk of an upscale hotel in the city of Palmetto has lingered for decades, but as a developer finally seems poised to build one near the Riviera Dunes development, residents are saying, anywhere but here.


Venice-based developer Harry Walia wants to build a 100-room hotel on a vacant 2.5 acre parcel in the heart of the waterfront community. At a meeting Monday night, Palmetto City Commissioners voted 4-1 to continue the issue until November 4, hoping more time will allow for a more informed vote. The developer, however, says he's not interested in waiting. 

Walia told the commission that if it voted for a continuance, he wouldn't be building the hotel at all. Commissioners Tamara Cornwell, Jonathan Davis, Tambra Varnadore and Brian Williams voted for the continuance, while Charles Smith, who supports the project, dissented, preferring to vote as scheduled.

At one point, Commissioner Williams tried to vote down the hotel, but his motion died.

The meeting included more than two hours of public comment, with local residents voicing opposition to the location, mostly due to contentions that it did not fit the property, complaining that there would be inadequate parking, obstruction of waterfront views among those residing nearby and unsustainable traffic increases.

This September, commissioners unanimously approved a first reading of the proposed project. Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant and CRA Director Jeff Burton have both voiced support for the project.

photo by John Rehill

Paul Esposito, a resident at the Rivera Dunes said, "The site is too small, there will be more traffic, deliveries and the lights from the parking lots will be on all night." Esposito added, "They are short 74 parking spots from what is required and zoning voted against it; plus there are 8 other locations that would be better."

But Esposito was just one of many; Debora Sperry said, property values would plummet…, Michael Strink added, "…quality of life would go down," and Tom Sibbald said, "There are six other properties." 

Local Property Attorney Caleb Grimes said, "I believe we need a hotel in the area, but not on the proposed property." Most of those opposing the hotel, said the same, few were opposed to having a hotel, just not on that site.

The application requested a couple of modifications; one being an additional two floors, and another was to reduce the setback from 63 ft. to 54 ft. Walia said "We went up, to reduce the size of the footprint." 

One of the most problematic aspects about obtaining a permit was that not all of the historical documents have been located to date, and considering the number of times the property has changed hands, the city attorney cautioned the commission about going forward.

Walia said he had waited long enough, that his business deal didn't have the luxury of a continuance and confirmed again that if not approved at Monday's hearing, he would drop any further efforts.

Commissioner Smith reminded the other commissioners repeatedly, "We will find ourselves in court. I am looking out for the city, and I don't see any real reason that says we can't approve this application."


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