CLEARWATER -- It's rare for Clearwater's Community Development Board to reverse a recommendation by the Planning Department. It is even rarer to deny an application that City staff has recommended for approval, but that is what nearly happened during the CDB's April 19 meeting. The application to build a condominium by Skiff Point of Clearwater, LLC, met with opposition not only from neighboring property owners, but members of the CDB as well.
Skiff Point's application involved a 15-unit, five-story (four stories over ground level parking) residential condominium building on a pie-shaped 1/2 acre parcel. The proposal includes 24 parking spaces under the building. The Planning Department's staff report claimed that both the number of units, based on 30 units per acre, and the number of parking spaces, based on 1.5 spaces per unit, are permitted under City code.
But the staff report exposed several aspects of the project that were inconsistent with Clearwater's minimum development standards; the application requested a reduction in side setback to 6.5 feet from 10 feet, front setback to 15 feet from 25 feet, rear setback to zero for the pool deck, and an increase in height from 30 feet to 49 feet to the roof deck. Above the roof deck, requests were made for 4 feet of additional height for decorative parapets and an additional 16 feet for elevator overrun.
Despite the projects inconsistencies with minimum development standards, staff recommended approval subject to Flexible Development standards that permit the requested setback reductions and height increase. But eligibility for Flexible Development standards is not a given; it must be earned by complying with a set of criteria for residential infill projects, requiring among other things, that "The uses within the residential infill project are compatible with adjacent lands uses."
It's that compatibility, or lack thereof, that caused the greatest concern among those who objected to the project. Neil Spillane, the owner of a townhome adjacent to the proposed development, said, "The proposed height of the new structure will in fact reach a total of 71 feet, which is 41 feet taller than current Skiff Point residences, a 237% increase." Spillane also expressed concerns with parking, citing limited on-street parking in the neighborhood for visitors and service vehicles, and safety, claiming that emergency vehicles would have difficulty responding because of the buildings height and the narrow street.
The Island Estates Civic Association also opposed the project. Its President, Frank Dame said, " We oppose this because it is out of character with adjacent properties in height, size and bulk." Its Vice President, Don McCreery, cited the Island Estates Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District (NCOD), and said that the Skiff Point project would "negate" parts of it. Appealing to CDB members, McCreery said, "I would ask you to think about what approval of a plan like this does to the neighborhood, and in turn the effect it has on an NCOD that was put in place to prevent this type of development."
Board Members Thomas Coates and Kathy Milam were critical of the project. "There was a particular overall spirit to the NCOD, and I find that this project goes against that spirit," said Coates. Milam said, "This Skiff Point location is such a small finger I think that this building would just overwhelm this street. I find it totally non-conforming for that little location."
Troy Perdue, Attorney for the developer, heard the board's criticisms and asked for a continuance of the hearing rather than risk a 9-month delay if the application was denied. The board approved the continuance by a vote of 4-3, Gildersleeve, Fritsch, Coates and Milam in favor, and Johnson, Dennehy and Tallman opposed.
Perdue said that representatives of the developer have since met with officers of the Island Estates Civic Association and several nearby condominiums. He said that minor modifications might be made, but there will be no drastic changes to the plan. Niel Spillane, owner of a townhome adjacent to the planned Skiff Point project, had not been contacted as of May 10. Speaking on behalf of other owners in his townhome development, Spilane said, "To the best of my knowledge, they have not made contact with any of us."
The rehearing of the application has been scheduled for the next meeting of Clearwater's Community Development Board, 1 pm on Tuesday, May 17, in Council Chambers at City Hall.
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