MIRAMAR BEACH — It’s back to the drawing board for a 100-room TownePlace Suites hotel being proposed for a 1.5-acre tract at 39 Scenic Gulf Drive near U.S. Highway 98 after Walton County’s Design Review Board took a detailed and critical look at plans Thursday.
Board concerns focused on the relatively sparse landscaping on the site, and some frustration that the developer, Atlanta-based Banyan Investment Group, which has offices in Destin, would not budge from its five-story, 100-room design.
But eliminating even a handful of rooms, which in turn would reduce the number of needed parking spaces to free up more land for landscaping, is not an option, according to Michael Langston of Baskerville-Donovan Inc., the Pensacola-based engineering firm working with Banyan Investment Group on the project.
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“There is a magic number for the owner trying to get a return on his investment,” Langston told the board.
But he also signaled that his firm and the developer are willing to continue to work with the county to come to some solution so the project can move forward. The project previously has been before the county’s Design Review Board and Technical Review Committee.
“We’re just trying to find a happy medium here to make this work,” Langston told the Design Review Board on Thursday.
Banyan Investment Group has owned the Scenic Gulf Drive property, currently the site of a 65-room Quality Inn & Suites hotel, for at least 25 years.
Board member Jonathan Hampel was particularly frustrated by the project’s multiple appearances in front of reviewing bodies.
“You’re asking the county to give, give, give, give, give,” Hampel said, “and I don’t feel like the owner is willing to give or budge on his need for 100 rooms. Even a six-room reduction would do a whole lot for landscaping.”
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In the end, the Design Review Board agreed to grant Banyan Investment Group a continuance of its consideration of the project. It will reconsider the proposal, with changes from the developer at its July 1 meeting.
The Design Review Board is one of the entities that reviews major development proposals before they make their way to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners for a final decision. Prior to the board’s vote, Langston and Manoj Chauhan, chief development officer and partner in Banyan Investments, had asked for a continuance rather than a final decision.
Among the suggestions made by the Design Review Board to the property owner and engineering firm was to meet with adjacent property owners to determine whether landscaping on the hotel site could be extended onto those surrounding properties to allow the hotel to beef up its landscaping. No such discussions had been held with those property owners previously, according to Langston.
The board also suggested the possibility of removing a fire-pit area from the site plan, to make more of the property available for landscaping as a buffer between the hotel and surrounding properties.
“I think that the burden is there for you to find some creative solutions,” Design Review Board Chair Keli Frymire told Langston. “I think there’s some room for continued evaluation there.”
Frymire also acknowledged the challenges that the developer faces in trying to put a 100-room hotel on a 1.5-acre tract that is also affected by easements that limit development of some areas of the property.
u’ve got a tight, tight site there,” she told Langston.
But Frymire added that the suggestions from the board are worth consideration in advance of the upcoming July 1 session.
“I think all of the options we’ve mentioned are design opportunities that you can explore,” Frymire said.
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