The City of Clearwater held the second of a series of four community meetings at the Clearwater Beach Recreation Center on Wednesday, April 20th, to discuss changes to the Old Florida District on Clearwater Beach. The purpose of the meeting was to review the results of the first meeting and to continue to refine the final design of the Old Florida District (OFD). The meeting was opened by Michael Delk, the new Planning Director, who has replaced Cindy Tarapani. The number of citizens attending this meeting was significantly less than at the first meeting.
A brief review of the first public workshop was given by Karl Wielecki, Assistant Planning Director. He handed out a seven page summary of Strengths/Opportunities and Weaknesses/Threats, which was a compilation of citizen comments from the first meeting. The number one ranked 'strength' was the need to keep OFD a buffer zone from business and commercial development to the south and the residential neighborhoods to the north. The number one 'threat' to the OFD was the 'changing (of the) rules' from one developer to the next after several large projects have recently been approved by the Community Development Board (CDB). Infrastructure, parking and uncontrollable height variances were also high on the list of concerns.
As is typical of city sponsored charettes, the room was filled with tables for small group interaction. Each table had three blank sheets of paper and a facilitator who mediated the discussion. The goal of this 'map exercise' was to translate the strengths/opportunities and weaknesses/threats of the first meeting into a 'graphic form' picturing what the Old Florida District should become. Sheila Cole, Executive Director of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, commented that 'they gave a blank map, but we don’t have a ‘clean’ slate.' There are existing structures in place and previous decisions have been made that will be very hard to reverse. At the end of the evening, all maps were placed on the walls of the recreation center for participants to rate the ideas they believed to be the best solutions.
Councilman John Doran expressed a different perspective. He was 'impressed with the level of creative ideas that came out of the small group discussions.' Doran hopes that staff will use this important public input to reconcile the confusion between the Community Development Code and Beach by Design concerning the Old Florida District.
One sentiment expressed by some participants was that 'only the property owner and those with vested interest' should be engaged in this discussion. City staff reiterated that this was a public process and anyone can participate in these meetings.
The 'maps' on the wall at the end of the evening, said it all. There were 'designs' that limited building heights to 35 feet throughout the district to others allowing 100 feet and above. There were maps that had buildings along Mandalay Avenue with the greatest heights (over 100 feet), with less heights down to the water on both the Gulf of Mexico and the channel separating Clearwater Beach from Island Estates. This would technically allow for all development projects to have equal exposure to water views.
There was one suggestion that developers who accumulated larger tracts of land be able to build 'over roadways to the gulf', thereby allowing public access to the beaches, but allowing for the possibility of large condominium structures all along the gulf to Acacia Circle. Other ideas from building a parking garage on top of a new library and new fire station with a helipad, to expanding the green space and recreational offering by the city acquiring more land along Mandalay, to creating well landscaped streets with coffee shops and small restaurants were all contained on separate maps. There was no lack of ideas. What was lacking was any form of consensus.
One might ask, 'What was accomplished?' It is difficult to say. But as one resident who has attended many of these events in the past said, 'A lot of us thought…it’s too late. This should have begun 5 years ago.' Hopefully, city staff can make sense out of the vast array of ideas, and be able to present their new map of the Old Florida District at the next meeting.
The next meeting will be held at the Clearwater Beach Recreation Center, on May 11th at 7 PM. Your attendance is encouraged.
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