CLEARWATER - Clearwater's Community Development Board had twice failed to reach a decision on an application to construct a 71-foot tall condominium with reduced setbacks on Island Estates' smallest finger, Skiff Point.
The first hearing on April 19th resulted in a continuance, the Board suggesting that the developer meet with the projects many opponents to find solutions to their objections. The second hearing on May 17th found the Board evenly split on the project, their 3-3 vote resulting in another continuance.
The third hearing occurred on June 21. Clearwater's Community Development Code had not changed. The developer's application was unchanged. The arguments in favor of the project were unchanged. The opposition's arguments were unchanged, claiming that the project was out of character with adjacent properties because of height and mass, and that insufficient parking was planned for the building's 15 units. But this hearing had a different outcome, the Board voting 4-2 in favor of the project.
What had changed?
During the May 17th CDB meeting, members Thomas Coates and Kathy Milam were both quite vocal in their opposition to the project. Member Nick Frtisch joined them in voting against the project. CDB Chairman David Gildersleeve and members JB Johnson and Dana Tallman voted in favor of the project. Vice Chairman Alex Plisko and alternate member Daniel Dennehy were absent. Deadlock resulted.
The Board's composition changed for the June 21st hearing. Members Coates and Milam, who had both opposed the project, were absent; taking their place were Plisko and Dennehy.
CDB hearings are "quasi-judicial", meaning that the board members are to consider only evidence submitted prior to and during the hearing, and determine if the application meets the criteria for approval established in Clearwater's Community Development Code. But the Code's Flexible Development provisions, sought by the Skiff Point application, are somewhat subjective, and open to interpretation by the CDB.
During board discussion, Plisko commented that he had difficulty working with the Code on projects of the magnitude of Skiff Point. He said, "I think the ordinance was set up to give the developer flexibility, and if you were going to expand the height, then I think that they should give us better setbacks. If they were going to expand the setbacks, then I think they should give us a lower building. I don't think that the people that envisioned this ordinance wanted it to be able to flex everything at one time." "I think that, as a Board, we need to step up and look at what the ordinance intent was and that we have to be more difficult on projects like this", he said, explaining his opposition to the application.
The majority of the board interpreted the Code's Flexible Development criteria differently, Gildersleeve, Dennehy, Johnson and Tallman voting in favor of the application, while Fritsch joined Plisko in voting against it.
Had Plisko been present at the May 17th hearing, his vote would likely have turned a 3-3 tie into a 4-3 denial of the application. Or if members Milam and Coates had been present at the June 21 hearing and maintained their positions, Dennehy would not have been seated and the likely outcome would have again been a 4-3 denial. The developer's success and the quality of life of the projects neighbors were determined, it seems, by a simple twist of fate - member attendance at the decisive CDB meeting.
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