CLEARWATER - Two months have elapsed since the Clearwater City Council rendered no decision on a proposed development agreement with Dr. Kiran Patel's K & P Clearwater Estate for a resort hotel on the site of what is now the Day's Inn on Clearwater Beach.
During their December 16 2004 meeting, a majority consisting of Council members Hibbard, Jonson and Petersen appeared ready to deny the agreement, but instead the Council decided to continue the issue until their February 17th meeting; they asked City staff and representatives of the developer to resolve the disputed aspects of the resort in the interim. A denial would have had dire consequences for the proposed resort, delaying the City's acceptance of any "substantially similar" application for a period of 1 year, in accordance with the Clearwater Community Development Code.
What transpired in the intervening two months? Only two meetings between staff and the developer, precious little considering what the Council requested during their December 16th meeting, setting up what one Council member called a high-stakes game of "chicken" for Thursday's public hearing. The Council will be weighing the benefits of adding another destination resort to South Clearwater Beach versus the massiveness of its proposed design, while considering the not-so-veiled threat that a denial may cause Patel to scrap his resort plan in favor of building two condo towers on the property.
Patel's group has submitted two alternative designs for the Hotel structure, self-described as "The Wedding Cake" and "The Notch". According to a staff report, the "Wedding Cake" reduces the size of the building by 31,900 square feet, for a new total size of approximately 292,558 square feet. The reduction is accomplished by providing more stepbacks on the north and south ends of the building, affecting the top four condominium floors. "The Notch" slices an area 5 floors high and 85-feet wide from the center of the building, reducing its size by approximately 26,000 square feet for a new building size of 298,425 square feet.
A City staff report dated February 7 faults both alternative designs as failing to comply with Beach by Design's 40% solid/60% open space requirement. "The Wedding Cake" design, it claims, affects areas of the building that were not included in the original calculation; therefore it does not change the project's non-compliance with the open space requirement. The staff report also claims Patel's "Notch" alternative fails to properly calculate the solid/open space ratio and that "there is no significant change from the earlier proposal" which had a 48.85% solid ratio.
Staff also determined that "The Wedding Cake" alternative could be considered a minor change, allowing it to be reviewed by the Planning Department rather than the CDB. "The Notch", on the other hand was determined to be a substantial change, requiring review by the CDB. Already having a CDB-approved site plan and not desiring to go through that process again, Patel's group withdrew its "Notch" alternative on February 11.
While the building's mass remains an issue, Staff concerns with public parking access appear to have been resolved. Patel's group removed the 85 valet-type public parking spaces they had offered in December, eliminating the Staff concern that valet-access might cause a backup in this traffic-intensive area of the beach. The proposed development agreement now offers only the original 15 public parking spaces.
The final issues involve the proposed pedestrian bridge linking the hotel to the dry sand beach. Patel's group has relocated the proposed bridge, avoiding potential conflicts with the City's lifeguard building and Pier 60 Parking cashier booth. While the new location is acceptable, staff continues to argue against the bridge, citing it as a precedent-setter for similar requests in the future, and its potential to block the scenic views along Gulfview Boulevard being created by the Beach Walk project.
During their work session on Monday, Council members Hamilton and Doran argued in favor of the Patel development agreement, and against the staff recommendation of denial.
During the December 16 hearing, Council members Jonson and Petersen had been critical of the hotel's mass. In addition, Petersen said that the City was not getting enough in return for its 250 density pool units, and asked for more public parking in the facility. Nothing in the revised building design or development agreement appears to have addressed the concerns of Jonson and Petersen.
That leaves Mayor Hibbard as the apparent swing vote. At the December hearing, he expressed concern with the building's mass and suggested that he'd like to see a reduction in parking capacity to reduce the building's size; those concerns do not seem to have been addressed. Hibbard said on Monday that he has not yet made up his mind; he will be weighing the pros and cons, both tangible and intangible, to arrive at his decision. He also wants to consider the public's opinion before deciding. The hearing will be held during the City Council meeting at 6PM on Thursday, February 17, at City Hall, 112 South Osceola Avenue.
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