|By Mike Brassfield, St. Petersburg Times,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jun. 17, 2009--CLEARWATER -- Once upon a time, developer Uday Lele dreamed up a vision for an incredibly lavish Clearwater Beach condominium called Enchantment.
It was going to be a curving, undulating tower on Clearwater Pass with rooftop domes, private elevators for each owner, a sculpture garden, a champagne lounge with free bubbly. Units would sell for up to $5 million.
This was during a different era, way back in 2005. Then the condo market went bust, and Enchantment never happened.
Tuesday, Lele got approval from a city zoning board to build a scaled-down dream -- an 88-room, eight-story hotel farther north on Clearwater Beach.
The Community Development Board okayed the hotel over the objections of neighbors who complained it would be too big and tall for a relatively small lot and it would block their views of the beach. They said it wouldn't fit in with the Old Florida neighborhood on the northern edge of the island's tourist district.
However, Lele's attorney and city planning officials said the proposed hotel meets local building codes. They said it follows Clearwater's idea of allowing bigger beach hotels to be built, in an effort to attract mid-sized, mid-priced hotels to replace ones torn down to make way for condos.
"Today this property is an overgrown sand pit with a temporary construction fence around it," Lele's attorney, state Rep. Ed Hooper, told the development board. "We need to bring tourists to Clearwater in an effort to fill that void that we have lost over the years."
In an interview, Lele proclaimed that his hotel, called Ambiance, will be a local attraction. Its fourth floor will have an "infinity pool" with a waterline that seems to spill out over the edge, along with a three-story waterfall cascading down the building's northwest corner.
"It's going to be quite a spectacle," Lele said. "It'll be backlit. You'll be able to see it from the beach."
The hotel would be built between Kendall and Avalon streets just north of the well-known Palm Pavilion restaurant and inn. The only thing between it and the beach would be a narrow city parking lot.
It would have five floors of rooms above three levels of parking, along with a small restaurant for guests. Lele said he's talking to hotel companies like Doubletree and Indigo about possibly operating it.
The City Council must sign off on an agreement that would give Lele two years to begin construction.
At Tuesday's development hearing, the hotel ran into vocal opposition from the owners of the small Snowflake Inn, its next-door neighbor on Kendall Street.
Also opposed were the owners of several townhouses a block and a half away on Poinsettia Avenue, who were upset about the possibility of losing their gulf view. "We'll be looking at a concrete eyesore, and gone will be the sunsets from our rooftops," said one resident, John Grubb.
However, the Community Development Board and its attorney said property owners don't have a legal right to a water view.
Lele, a successful businessman, has a mixed track record as a developer. He moved to the United States in 1990 and made his fortune by starting a candy company and inventing a fruit-juice-filled confection called Juicee Gummee.
He bought the 110-room Best Western hotel on Clearwater Pass, intending to replace it with the Enchantment condo tower. That never happened, and one of his lenders is suing him.
But Lele says two smaller condo projects on the beach, Chalet on White Sands as well as Chateau on White Sands, have been successful.
"We're not a fly-by-night company," he said. "We have a track record."
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