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Heaton family eyeing new beachside hotel in Old Riomar

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of October 22, 2020)

Lee Heaton, son of Vero Beach Hotel & Spa developer George Heaton, has been laying the groundwork with Vero city officials to build a new hotel in the Old Riomar neighborhood on the barrier island.

Lee Heaton applied to the city’s planning department in July to have language in the city code defining the term “room” clarified.  Heaton sent his request under the business name 1716 All Suite Hotel LLC and included a street address of 1716 Hwy. A1A on an artist rendering submitted to the city.

That address is the old SunTrust Bank building, located between A1A and Club Drive with the 15th and 16th holes of the Riomar Golf Course to the north, and a buffer of established trees obscuring the view of an electric substation to the south.

The 1.56-acre property is listed for $1,895,000 with Orlando-based McConnell Capital. The bank purchased the land in 1979 for $125,000 and constructed the 5,700-square-foot building on it in 1982. The zoning is C1-A, or commercial zoning.

Both the planning and zoning commission and the City Council approved Heaton’s request that a “room” could encompass a suite with a sitting area, living-dining room, two bathrooms and a balcony. Under the updated city code, that unit would be considered one room.

Vero Planning and Development Director Jason Jeffries told the City Council many different factors would go into how large a hotel Heaton could build on the property, with the definition of a “room” being one. “The size of a facility is determined by the maximum floor area ratio in the area,” Jeffries said. In the commercial zone Heaton is considering, code allows “up to 30 units per acre.”

Given the size of the property and the city’s height limits generally permitting no more than three stories, the hotel might be permitted to build as many as 46 rooms divided over three floors, with 16 or 18 suites on the second and third floors, and fewer on the ground floor to make space for a lobby, housekeeping areas and amenities.

Jeffries said the “room” definition could also be applied to senior assisted-living apartments or to other congregate living scenarios. If the Heatons purchase the property, they would need to go through the site plan approval process and meet all city code requirements.

Vice Mayor Laura Moss was concerned about the maximum occupancy of each suite. “Is it addressed in the code anywhere how many people are allowed in a room?” Moss said.

Jeffries said that’s not addressed in the city land development code. “Maximum occupancy is dealt with by the building code and the fire safety code,” he said, adding that assisted living facilities are regulated by the state.

Lee Heaton’s father, George Heaton, went to federal prison for six months after taking a plea deal on charges for defrauding several lending institutions in 2008 and 2009 during development of what was originally known as the Vero Beach Hotel and Resort.

He continues to serve the balance of a three-year probation which should be up in mid-2022. Under the terms of his probation, Heaton is not prohibited from engaging in real estate development or managing the family’s many companies – in fact, he is supposed to be gainfully employed. But he must report all business deals to his probation officer.