FREEPORT — Two proposals for hotels along U.S. Highway 98 in South Walton County comprising a total of 230 rooms made it through an early stage of review Thursday, provided the developers meet some minor conditions.
Staybridge Suites, an International Hospitality Group brand of extended-stay all-suite hotels, and Tru by Hilton, a Hilton Worldwide brand that competes with lodgings such as Comfort Inn and La Quinta, got conditional approvals from the Design Review Board (DRB), which nonetheless will allow them to proceed to the next stage of review with the county's Planning Commission.
In the interim, though, the developer of the Staybridge Suites project will be required to clear a final set of colors for the exterior of the116-unit building with the board.
The developer of the Tru by Hilton project will have to provide plans showing wheel stops installed in some parking spots, and will have to provide some clarity on plans for pole lighting outside the hotel. Additionally, the developer will be required to pursue a separate county approval of the main sign outside the hotel, since plans for the sign weren't clear on documents presented to the DRB for review.
Both proposals are classified as major developments, meaning that they also will have to be considered by the Board of County Commissioners, which makes the final decision on major development orders. Barring any delays at the Planning Commission, the proposals could be in front of county commissioners within a couple of months.
The Staybridge Suites proposal, from developer Destin Sandestin Hospitality LLC, is slated for a 2.4-acre tract along U.S. 98 at Ponce de Leon Street in Miramar Beach.
At Thursday's DRB meeting, project architect Javier Negroni told the board that while the International Hospitality Group has a set palette of colors for its Staybridge Suites, he had been able to work with the county to come up with a color scheme acceptable both to IHG and the local government.
But in the face of concerns from the DRB when a set of color and material samples differed from colors on documents presented to the board, Negroni hinted that the color scheme could be negotiated.
"We're open to work to create something that's appealing to the eye," he said.
Wayne Martin, a partner in Destin Sandestin Hospitality, took a harder line on concerns over the color scheme, which feature an array of grays and browns. He told the DRB and Negroni that "either the brand (International Hospitality Group) will go along with it, or we'll find another brand."
In the end, prior to granting its conditional approval, the DRB simply asked that the developer provide the county with accurate samples of the color palette for the project.
The DRB also prompted the developer to concede to an exterior design change, placing tile in exterior spaces where stone had been shown as the building material. The board was in general agreement that tile represented a more elegant look than stone, and also indicated that stone echoed a mountain aesthetic more than a beach aesthetic.
The signage proposed for the hotel, which places the "monument sign" — the large primary sign on the building's grounds — at its side-street entrance rather than on U.S. 98, got some praise from one DRB member after Martin said that signage is less important than it used to be, as people rely on digital maps available through their cellphones to find places.
"I'd love to get a testimonial from you to play for a whole bunch of people," said board member Leigh Moore, executive director of the nonprofit Scenic Walton, which "works with the community to preserve the natural beauty and enhance the quality of life" in the county, according to its website.
The Tru by Hilton Santa Rosa Beach project, being developed by First City Holdings LLC of Fort Walton Beach, also had some exterior color issues. But as with the Staybridge Suites project, it was able to come to an agreement with the county by adopting a mustard color as part of its exterior paint scheme instead of a bright yellow hue routinely used by the brand.
The project, a 114-unit structure planned for almost 2.2 acres on the south side of U.S. 98 between Goldsby Road and West Hewett Road, also got some discussion from Moore on Thursday, who had some concerns about the building's midcentury modern architectural style.
"I'm a big fan of this look personally," Moore said. "... I love midcentury modern, but it's different for here, that's for sure."
Moore made her comments, she said, to spur discussion among other board members.
"It's so different that I wanted to bring it up," she said.
The board had little to say about the design, other than a brief comment from member Lourdes Reynafarge, who said, "I think it's different. It gives variety."
This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: Freeport: Design Review Board approve Staybridge Suites, Tru by Hilton