CLEARWATER - The Clearwater City Council spent nearly two hours during their December 16th meeting hearing arguments for and against, and debating among themselves the merits of the proposed development agreement with K & P Clearwater Estate that would allow a the construction of a resort with 350 hotel rooms and 75 condominiums at the entry to South Clearwater Beach. The "Main Event", as Planning Director Cyndi Tarapani described the hearing during the Council's Monday Work Session, resulted in no decision; the Council directed City Staff and the developer to work out their differences and report back in two months.
While the hearing's subject was limited to the development agreement, the underlying issues were related to the proposed resort's site plan. Clearwater's Community Development Code, according to Tarapani, provides a clear separation of powers, with the City Council responsible for policy decisions such as approval of development agreements, and the Community Development Board responsible for implementation decisions such as approval of specific site plans.
But the site plan had come under Council scrutiny because the development agreement requested 250 units from the Beach by Design density pool; those units, according to Tarapani, created a facility whose mass exceeded Beach by Design guidelines. Specifically, the resort did not have "exceptional architectural design and high quality finishes", and it failed to meet Beach by Design's technical requirement of having at least 40% of the building's fašade above 45 feet elevation open.
Tarapani also found fault with two other aspects of the development agreement. A proposed pedestrian bridge connecting the resort to the white sand beach was located too close to a City-owned lifeguard building. A change to the bridge design, Tarapani said, would require approval of he CDB, a step that the developer did not want to take.
Tarapani's third issue was with public parking. The developer, she said, has proposed making an additional 85 of the resort's parking spaces available to the public; those spaces would not be permanently assigned, she said, but would come from unoccupied capacity within the resort accessed by valet. Tarapani suggested that this was a "Major" change to the site plan, and required a review by the CDB because of its potential to cause traffic congestion.
"The project has an impact both on the City's economy and on community character. On balance we do not think the project meets the City's goals for Beach by Design," Tarapani said.
Attorney Tim Johnson, representing K & P Clearwater Estate and its principal, Dr. Kiran Patel, argued for approval of the development agreement. "An issue not on the agenda this evening is whether the project meets the design guidelines for Beach by Design," he said, and outlined several self-proclaimed positive effects of approving the project, including: the replacement of several obsolete properties with a high-quality resort, the construction of Beach Walk as planned, the widening of Coronado as planned, the timely payment of the resort's share of Beach Walk construction costs, the creation of a relocated First Street, and an increase of 70 public parking spaces.
Johnson then rebutted the staff arguments for denial of the development agreement. He claimed, "meeting the design guidelines is not a criteria for the granting of bonus units", and added that the Council should not even be considering whether or not the project meets the design guidelines; the CDB, not the Council, has authority for such decisions.
Regarding the pedestrian bridge, Johnson said, "We're happy to move it". But he argued that if its relocation would be considered more than a minor change, "Your expression and interest in having a bridge there would be passed along to the CDB."
As for the parking issue, Johnson said, "No good deed goes unpunished". He recalled that the developer was asked to come up with more public parking, and he did. "And what did I get for it," he asked rhetorically, "A page an a half of comments about everything that's wrong with what it is that we want to do."
Johnson concluded with a thinly veiled threat to build 150 condos in two towers rather than a resort hotel if the development agreement is not approved. "My client has to do something, and that might be the logical answer to what he has to do."
Johnson was hoping for 3 Council votes in favor of the development agreement, but it soon became clear that three Council members were prepared to cast their votes against. Council members Hibbard, Jonson and Petersen thought that the structure was too massive. Jonson thought that the building's mass was caused by its 75 condominiums, not its 350 hotel rooms; "I think it could be argued that the City's investment in the hotel pool is really there to build a hotel that's going to hold up the five floors of condos on the top," he said.
Petersen introduced her comments with, "This is not a decision against a hotel", and proceeded to describe her concerns with the project. "We're trying to do too much on this space," she said, and called the agreement lop-sided, with the developer getting 250 bonus pool units without giving the City enough in return. "One hundred more parking spaces is not enough," she said, and concluded "There's too many things that don't quite meet what we're looking for."
Hibbard welcomed Dr. Patel to Clearwater, but expressed his concern with the mass of the building; "Unfortunately this (80-foot) notch doesn't go far enough. If it were 2 additional stories I would probably feel comfortable approving this," he said. Regarding the 100 public parking spaces, he said, "I would prefer to see those parking spaces eliminated and actually reduce the mass of the building."
The Council decided to continue the issue to the 2nd Council meeting in February, giving the developer and staff time to work things out. But the issue of a CDB review remained unanswered. Representing the developer, Attorney Johnson said that "less is minor change, and I'm hearing you ask for less." But City Attorney Pam Akin said, "Less is not necessarily not a substantial change". Tarapani will review any changes submitted, and will decide if a CDB review is required.
If the CDB conducts another site plan review, recent changes in the board's membership may impact the decision it makes. Gone are John Doran and Shirley Moran, both of whom voted in favor of the original site plan. Two new members have been named, Dana Tallman, an engineer, and Thomas Coates, an architect; both are considered qualified experts in their fields, and capable of interpreting the technical requirements stated in Beach by Design.
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