CLEARWATER - Applied Technology Management (ATM), Clearwater's financial and marketing consultant, delivered a promising outlook of demand for the proposed downtown boat slips last month. They recommended focusing on the high end of the market, with most slips in the 40-50 foot range, at rates between $12.50 and $15 per foot per month.
But while the city might have little difficulty selling slip rentals ranging upward of $500 per month for a forty-foot boat, Clearwater must first sell the concept to its citizens. The Charter of the City must be amended to allow the construction of the docks off Coachman Park, and that amendment must be approved via a referendum during the November general election.
Facing a deadline of tonight to approve the first reading of the ordinance authorizing the downtown boat slip referendum, the Clearwater City Council spent nearly forty minutes of their Monday work session discussing the wording of the proposed City Charter revision and the ballot question.
Still stinging from two earlier Coachman Park referendum losses and anticipating opposition to this one, the Council members were deliberate in their evaluation of the language that had been prepared by City Attorney Pam Akin, which read in part:
…to allow city-owned public docks, moorings, promenade and boardwalks; not more than 140 dedicated boat slips; restrooms and dockmaster offices; and bring existing surface parking up to city code…
"My whole focus on this is to take away every bullet we can take away from the opposition," said Council Member Hoyt Hamilton. He asked that the ballot question specifically exclude fuel docks and boat launching, issues that were exploited by Save the Bayfront in their campaign to defeat a Coachman Park redevelopment referendum in 2004.
While Hamilton focused on eliminating potential issues, Mayor Frank Hibbard chose to emphasize the positive features of the slips, asking that both the Charter amendment and ballot language provide priority access to the slips for Clearwater residents.
Council Member Carlen Petersen suggested that the restrooms be identified as public, not limited to the boaters who rent slips.
Hibbard wanted additions to the Charter language, allowing public access to the docks during daylight hours; "I don't want people to feel that there's a gate that can be shut and only certain people can go beyond that," he said.
Council member Bill Jonson agreed, stating his desire that the public have access, and "that the public can enjoy looking at the boats even if they can't get on."
"I don't want anyone thinking that this is an elitist situation, that the only people that can get out there are people who have 60-foot yachts. That's not what this is about," Hibbard said.
City Attorney Pam Akin will have revised wording for both the Charter amendment and ballot language ready for Council approval at tonight's City Council meeting. State law limits the ballot question to no more than 75 words, a challenge for Akin considering the complexity of the issue and Council member prerogatives.
While Hibbard recognized the importance of the 75-word ballot question, he said, "The majority of people need to walk into the ballot box already knowing which way they're voting on this particular question, or we're done." He called for a public education effort to familiarize Clearwater's voters with the proposal in far greater detail than the Charter amendment or ballot question could provide.
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