Will the revival of the Mayfair Hotel be blocked by appeal process?

Click to enlarge. A view from the south (1st Street) side of the historic Mayfair Inn.

A local resident is asking the Sanford City Commission to block plans to allow the historic Mayfair Hotel to once again operate as a luxury hotel.

Stephanie Norton is appealing the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to allow a conditional use for the property located 1000 E. 1st St. to be used for “transient lodging,” which is the term city planners use to refer to hotels.

Ms. Norton opposes a hotel at that location for three reasons. First, she says a hotel would cause substantial traffic congestion in the surrounding area.

Second, she argues that renovation of the interior of the building would negatively impact nearby Fort Mellon Park and expose children using the playground to construction and demolition debris. She also claims that a luxury hotel is incompatible next to a park.

Third, she asserts that Sanford doesn’t need a luxury hotel at that location.

The city commission will hear the appeal tonight (Monday, Oct 23) during its regularly scheduled meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.

If the commission denies the appeal, the planning board’s decision to grant a conditional use will stand, and Key Performance Hospitality Management can proceed with its renovation plans.

If the commission approves the appeal, the hotel project would not move forward.

So will the city commission grant the appeal? I don’t think so.

Ms. Norton’s protest of traffic congestion is a standard anti-development argument, but it’s really lame in this case.

For starters, the building was originally constructed as a hotel in 1925, and it operated as such until 1963. Then the Sanford Naval Academy School for Boys operated a boarding school out of the facility until 1976.

New Tribes Mission, now known as Ethos360, bought the building 1977 for it’s international headquarters. In addition to offices, the building housed dozens of missionary families.

So for most of the building’s 92 year history, upwards of 200 people a night have used the property as either a dorm or transient lodging. Plus, the hospital was built nearby in the 1960s at the corner of 1st Street and Mellonville Avenue. Today, it’s the Seminole County Services building where a couple hundred employees work and hundreds of people visit daily. Traffic will be no more of a concern with a new hotel than it was 50 years ago, which is long before Ms. Norton bought her house.

Her arguments about kids being exposed to construction debris leave me with a giant WTF?! Same with her assertion that a luxury hotel would be incompatible with Fort Mellon Park, so I feel no need to address them.

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure this appeal is on the level. Something smells fishy, and here’s why.

At no time in the months leading up to the planning and zoning commission’s Aug. 3 meeting did Ms. Norton express her concerns to city staff, the developer, planning board members or elected officials. She didn’t speak out at the citizen’s participation meeting on June 5, nor did she speak publicly at the Aug. 3 planning and zoning meeting.

Instead, she waited until more than a month after the planning and zoning commission made its decision (about 4 days before the deadline for an appeal) before submitting the paperwork and paying a $500 fee to appeal.

That’s right, Ms. Norton, who never publicly spoke against the proposed hotel, paid $500 to file an appeal.

Why would someone do that? I tried to ask her that question, but she did not return the messages I left for her.

So I did some digging. Turns out Ms. Norton works for RP Funding, a successful local mortgage company. You know who else works for RP Funding (or did until he recently switched companies)? John Revelle, the guy who wants to put a hotel in the Wells Fargo building at the corner of 1st Street and Park Avenue.

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A Facebook post from last month shows Stephanie Norton is at least Facebook friends with John Revelle. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Is there a connection? Mr. Revelle swears there’s not. He says RP Funding is a big company and that he did not know Ms. Norton. She did, however, tag him on Facebook for an event she is interested in going to in a couple of weeks. That alone does not prove the two are in cahoots. I’ve got several Facebook “friends” I barely know.

Mr. Revelle also says he cancelled his contract to buy the Wells Fargo building on Aug. 24, about 2 weeks before Ms. Norton submitted the appeal application. I’ll take him at his word.

Still, it’s an odd appeal. I don’t know anyone who voluntarily gives city government $500 without first pursuing all the free avenues to voice their concerns.

If Ms. Norton wins her appeal, she’ll get her money back, but I’d put $500 on the Gators to beat Georgia straight up before I see the city commission granting this appeal.

(FYI Georgia fan James West, that was not a formal invitation to wager.)