A bitterly disputed proposal to build a 250-room hotel on the Strand was defeated in a special election last week by just one vote, according to official election results released Tuesday.
The vote margin, thought to be four votes on election night, dwindled to one after City Clerk Kathleen Reviczky accepted 10 challenged ballots and one overlooked absentee ballot at a special post-election session Friday. The challenged ballots were left uncounted election night because the voters' names did not appear on lists at local polling sites. The names were later found on county voter registration lists.
Six challenged ballots and the absentee ballot were "yes" votes and four challenged ballots were "no" votes, bringing the final tally to 2,398 votes against the project and 2,397 for it. One challenged ballot was not opened at the session Friday because the person was registered to vote in Rolling Hills Estates, Reviczky said.
Proponents of the proposed $31-million hotel development, buoyed by the shrinking margin of defeat, said they will request a recount next week. Reviczky has tentatively set next Thursday for the second tally.
'Opinion Hasn't Changed'
"It is certainly worth the time for one vote," said developer Joe Langlois. "My opinion of the site certainly hasn't changed."
But opponents of the four-story proposed hotel, which would be built on the city-owned Biltmore property and several adjoining privately owned parcels, said they were confident of victory.
"It was a very close vote, but we still won," said Paul Robinson, treasurer of the Hotel Referendum Committee, a group organized to oppose the hotel. "It is quite obvious to me that a hotel is not in the general interest of the city as far as the citizens are concerned."
During the recount, attention will most assuredly center on Reviczky and nine ballots that she disqualified on election night. Two of those ballots--both absentee votes in favor of the hotel--were rejected because the voters used a pen to mark a "yes" vote rather than punch the "yes" hole, Reviczky said. Election guidelines preclude her from counting those votes, she said.
Seven additional ballots, four from precincts that voted heavily in favor of the hotel, were rejected electronically by the tabulation machine. Reviczky said the machine will not count ballots that have both the "yes" and "no" holes punched, neither hole punched or a hole only partly punched. She said one of those ballots was disqualified because the voter punched a hole elsewhere on the card.
Ballot Challenge Due
"The nine disqualified ballots will be challenged when the recount is held," said Reviczky, who said she expects to be intensely scrutinized by both sides during the recount. "I will reconsider them then." The two pen-marked absentee ballots and the ballot punched in the corner, however, will be reconsidered only as a formality, she said. "They clearly do not qualify," she said.
The recount, which must occur within 10 days of a formal request, will be done by hand and will be paid for by the voter who requests it, she said. The new tally will cost about $650, she said.
Langlois, who would not comment about the results on election night, said later that he was optimistic about the recount. He said his firm, Greenwood & Langlois, will build the project even if it musters only a one-vote victory margin.
"My business is to build buildings," he said.