|By Kathy Steele, Tampa Tribune,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 20, 2008 - EAST TAMPA -- An extended-stay hotel that appeared headed for approval got a flat no from the city council after residents mobilized against it.
The council unanimously denied the zoning application for the proposed four-story, pay-by-the week hotel at East Columbus Drive and East 17th Avenue, off Interstate 4.
"The community knows their neighborhood better than the rest of them," Councilman John Dingfelder said. "I believe it's intrusive in the neighborhood. I believe it will increase the crime."
In November, Dingfelder and Linda Saul-Sena were the only council members to vote against the hotel, saying a restaurant or store would fit better. In December, the council postponed a second vote so developers could meet with neighbors.
"We're disappointed," said Bob Smith, representing Maitland-based Liberty VP East Tampa. "We thought it was an ideal area and a help to the neighborhood to bring a new business. It needs economic development."
Smith said investors might find another Tampa location for the Value Place hotel, which is part of a national franchise that includes hotels in Boston, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Orlando.
Value Place's founders also developed Residence Inn and Summerfield Suites.
More than 40 residents went to city hall Thursday to oppose the hotel. Letters of opposition were read from Kalu Watanabe, senior partner of a development company that recently remodeled the nearby Milner Hotel, and Michael and Joseph Brocato, owners of an East Columbus sandwich shop.
Watanabe's letter stated more high-end hotels, not lower-rate motels, are needed to revitalize the neighborhood.
Ernest William Preston Jr. said he has seen drug dealers in the neighborhood.
"It's a very dangerous area," he said. "I appreciate all of the police work but this hotel would be a step back."
Diane Gentry and her mother, Victoria Contos, who lives across from the proposed hotel site, went door-to-door collecting about 115 opposition letters.
Neighbors worry the hotel, with weekly rates of $230, would become temporary housing and attract prostitutes and drug dealers, Gentry said.
"This is a cry for help," she told the council. "You are their last hope."
Smith said three hotel employees would live on site to provide security. No single-night rentals would be allowed. Guests likely would be professionals and businessmen, he said.
"We wouldn't invest $7.6 million in an area frivolously," Smith said.
Councilman Joseph Caetano voted to deny the application but was frustrated that public safety concerns contributed to the hotel's defeat. He said he spoke with police about beefing up patrols.
"These people have a right to build on their property," Caetano said. "What we need to do is clean up our act."
Reporter Kathy Steele can be reached at (813) 835-2103 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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