TAMPA — It took 13 hours over three weeks, but developer Blake Casper’s dream to convert a historic Bayshore Boulevard estate into a private club — with booze sold until the wee hours and five rooms for overnight guests — won City Council approval Thursday.
After six hours of testimony, council members voted 5-2 to approve an alcohol permit and rezoning for the Stovall House, which sits on 2.6 acres in the Bayshore Beautiful neighborhood.
Council members Charlie Miranda and Mike Suarezv voted against the proposal.
In August, dozens of supporters and opponents took turns at the microphone dueling over Casper’s vision until 1 a.m.
On Thursday, Casper’s attorneys, his supporters and the developer himself remained mostly silent while opponents again raised concerns about parking, traffic, noise and drunk driving in the residential neighborhood surrounding the mansion.
In the end, council members decided that allowing the property to be rezoned as a planned development allowed the city to exercise some control over what will go on at a club that may have hundreds of members.
"The only way to deal with some of the concerns that have been raised by the neighborhood is by this type of approval. If we deny it, there is a way to sell alcohol anyway and to do so without restriction," said Harry Cohen, whose council district covers the Stovall House.
In what he called a zoning "loophole," Cohen said Casper could have a catering company serve alcohol without restrictions as other venues do along the iconic waterside boulevard.
Casper promised his club wouldn’t be a South Tampa version of Animal House.
"You have my word that this will be an incredible asset to Tampa and we will operate it in such a manner and we will ensure that the neighborhood is protected," he said when asked by Chairman Frank Reddick if he would heed the neighbors’ concerns.
Miranda remained skeptical.
"When you have this much debate, there’s something wrong somewhere. There is something that doesn’t jibe," he said.
As in August, nearby residents said they are worried about delivery trucks tearing up their quiet streets, drunk drivers menacing residents and constant noise from the club, which will be allowed to serve alcohol until 3 a.m.
"You know how I felt after your vote three weeks ago — that I’m part of the little people who must have our rights subjugated for the greater good," Francine LeVine said.
But no council member switched their vote from the Aug. 30 hearing. Yvonne Yolie Capin, who missed that meeting because of health reasons, said Thursday that the city couldn’t deny Casper’s request.
City staff had recommended against granting the alcohol permit because of the proximity to private homes. But that standard is hard to meet in Tampa, she said.
"People serve alcohol in their homes. They have parties in their homes. We cannot sit here and presume someone is going to get drunk and drive," Capin said.
Although they recommended against the alcohol permit, city staff had found the rezoning consistent with city code. Casper had said he wouldn’t pursue the club if he couldn’t serve alcohol.
Casper, the founder of the Oxford Exchange, made some concessions. Small delivery vans and trucks under 10,000 pounds will make deliveries to the Bayshore entrance. And no amplified sound will be allowed outdoors.
But neighbors, who organized as Keep Bayshore Beautiful, weren’t mollified. The issue has divided the affluent neighborhood since Casper purchased the house built in 1909 for $9.5 million in March. Zhenya Nichols said she would likely sell her house at 4621 Bayshore Blvd. if the club became a reality.
Turning to the packed council chambers, including rows of supporters wearing green "Save the Stovall House" T-shirts, she opened her arms wide and made an offer: "I’ll gladly swap my house with you, right now!"
When Reddick asked her to address council members, not the audience, she swept back around.
"Any of you?"