HB’s on the Gulf is located at The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. The restaurant serves fresh seafood and other options daily for lunch and dinner.

Naples City Council voted 7-0 on Tuesday to uphold a design board’s decision that authorized plans to rebuild the HB’s on the Gulf restaurant at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club.

Three Naples residents appealed the Design Review Board’s approval of the proposed project earlier this year.

The project would expand the beachfront restaurant and reduce the size of an adjacent meeting room as the Watkins family, longtime owner of the hotel, plans to sell the 125-acre property to the The Athens Group for redevelopment.

The beach hotel closed Sunday and is slated for demolition.

It was “critical” to reject the appeal Tuesday because timing is of the essence, attorney Elise Batsel of the Stearns Weaver Miller law firm said during the special meeting.

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A nearly 10-year-old state environmental permit is set to expire in July. If it does, the restaurant would have to be relocated farther from the shoreline and elevated to comply with current building requirements, Tim McCarthy, an architect with Hart Howerton, told the Naples Daily News recently.

Batsel said the business deal between the Watkins family and The Athens Group states that Athens will expand the restaurant at its current location.

“You lose that toes-in-the-sand (feeling) if you have to bring that to code,” Batsel said at the meeting.

City Councilman Mike McCabe said that if the Watkins family sells the hotel to Athens, the company would have to submit a new petition to the design board.

“We are supposed to be making (the decision) based upon the architectural design and details of a building that will never be built,” McCabe said.

In response, Batsel said it is important to recognize the property rights of the Watkins family.

“If the Watkins build this, does that meet the criteria?” Batsel said councilors should ask themselves.

“If the sale closes, then Athens has the opportunity to come back and use this as a stepping stone for their vision,” Batsel said.

Gregory Myers speaks during a Naples City Council meeting on May 25, 2021. (Photo: Omar Rodríguez Ortiz/Staff)

Gregory Myers, the appellant, said during the meeting that he has easement rights that would be violated if his appeal failed.

“I have an easement in that right of way that comes down to the beach, right through the middle of HB’s,” Myers said.

City Councilman Paul Perry said Myers has a “private property dispute” that could be resolved in a court of law.

“We, as the appellate board, have no authority to resolve private property disputes,” Perry said.

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Mary Young and Jack Ladley, who filed a separate appeal, said during the meeting that they withdrew their appeal late Monday night.

In an email sent Tuesday, Ladley wrote they decided to drop their appeal because the revised presentations to council answered many of the concerns they originally expressed.

“(The) Athens Group has very recently made a number of commitments that we felt indicated a true ‘good faith’ attempt to address several resident concerns. Of course we look forward to city council’s monitoring of these commitments and ensuring they are implemented going forward,” Ladley wrote.

Vice Mayor Terry Hutchison said there is still work to be done to protect green space at the hotel’s golf course.

“The issue of having the developer keep the promises related to the strongest possible conservation easement is also of utmost importance,” Hutchison said.

Attorney Elise Batsel of the firm Stearns Weaver Miller speaks during a Naples City Council meeting on May 25, 2021. (Photo: Omar Rodríguez Orti

In a written statement sent Tuesday, Jay Newman, chief operating officer of The Athens Group, said he appreciated City Council’s decision.

“This critical approval will enable Athens to fulfill its shared vision with the Watkins family and its commitments for these beloved facilities to ensure that they will be available for the community to enjoy at the future Four Seasons at Naples Beach Club resort,” Newman said.

Council to search for new city manager

Following hours of presentations, debates and occasional heated exchanges about HB’s expansion, City Council voted to postpone several agenda items that were scheduled for a regular meeting on Tuesday evening.

City Council will discuss at a meeting next Tuesday how the city will search for a new city manager following the resignation of City Manager Charles Chapman earlier this month.

How early a city manager will be hired depends on which recruitment method City Council selects, interim City Manager Dana Souza said Tuesday.

If City Council decides that the city will handle the recruitment and screening of candidates, a new city manager could possibly start in October. On the other hand, if council chooses to publish a request for proposal to hire an executive search firm, a new manager would not start until January of next year.

City Council also postponed to next Tuesday the first reading of an ordinance that would allow so-called rooftop restaurants with outdoor dining to be located on the second and third floors of buildings on Fifth Avenue South, subject to the approval of a conditional use.

Reporter Laura Layden contributed to this report.

Contact Omar at o[email protected], and follow him on Twitter as @Omar_fromPR. Support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.

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