Council Overlooks Public Concerns in Sandpearl Dock Brouhaha
by Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - The Clearwater City Council meeting last Thursday promised to have contentious moments. But the fireworks on this night were not to come from members of the public, but from a heated exchange among Clearwater's elected officials.
On the agenda was the approval of a proposed amendment to a development agreement between the city and the Sandpearl resort on Clearwater Beach. The agreement would give Sandpearl the right to build docks on city-owned submerged land in exchange for annual rent of $5435.83 and devoting 15 of the facility's 42 slips for free use by the public.
What's not to like about the deal? Plenty, according to the Clearwater Beach Association and its members, who objected that the lease of submerged lands should have been subjected to a public referendum, and that it should have been put out to a competitive bid. They also objected that the docks would create additional demand on the already heavily used Beach Rec Center parking lot, impacting users of the rec center, beachgoers and users of the library which will soon be moved there.
But the greatest impact would be to the 200 homeowners of the Belle Harbor Condominiums, which lie adjacent to and share the waterway with the proposed Sandpearl docks. Ken Robulak, president of the Belle Harbor Owners Association, spoke on their behalf and offered solutions to potential disturbances that could be created by the late-night revelry of transient users of the public docks.
Claiming that the proposed operating hours of the public docks, 5 a.m. to midnight, were "incompatible with a residential neighborhood", Robulak suggested that their operation should be limited to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. He also called for more active monitoring of the public docks, and suggested that Clearwater Police be empowered to ticket boats remaining there after hours.
Councilmember Paul Gibson, a resident of Belle Harbor, supported Robulak's arguments. "I would like to have a very detailed discussion amongst us up here before I vote on this to understand how we're going to manage the facility," he said, "Agreeing to write rules later on doesn't work for me. I want a firm understanding up here what those rules are going to be, what the hours of operation are going to be, how we're going to enforce the rules."
Gibson continued, "I'd like to follow down the path that the Belle Harbor Owners Association has proposed tonight. That association is the most affected by what's going to happen here tonight." Gibson began to outline what he wanted to discuss, but was interrupted by Mayor Frank Hibbard, who said, "First of all, I'm going to run it. Secondly, I'm going to let other questions unfold here and I've got a couple of comments as well."
Gibson responded, "As long as we get back to my..."
With that exchange, the chairperson, Mayor Frank Hibbard, lost control of the meeting and, as in a hockey game where the referee has ignored too many infractions, a verbal brawl soon broke out.
Councilmember Carlen Petersen, without being recognized by the Mayor, interjected, "I'd like to make a comment," and admonished Gibson, "What you have to remember is that - and I'm hearing a lot of 'I want, I, I, I, I, I' - um, there's a legal term called caveat emptor. When you bought that property, you knew what you were buying. You're surrounded by tourists. Everybody who is in that project bought it knowing what they were surrounded by."
Gibson responded to Petersen, "When you approve a residential project, you have to take into account the impact on that residential project of what you approve. If you and I disagree on that, we're on opposite ends of the planet."
Petersen answered, "We are. But just because you don't get what you want doesn't mean that we aren't looking out for the interests of the Belle Harbor residents"
Gibson responded, "Putting a public marina under the windows of a residential community and leaving it open till midnight is not looking out for the best interests of the taxpayers and residents of that area."
Cretekos interrupted the Petersen/Gibson debate. "It is probably to someone who lives next to an airport no different to them, and airports are open…" Cretekos said, explaining the noise that neighbors of the Clearwater-St. Petersburg Airport must endure. But what Cretekos didn't understand or explain is the rules at the Clearwater Airpark, whose hours of operation are limited by the city to landings between 7 a.m.. and 9 p.m., with no takeoff's later than one hour after sunset. The city has even protected nearby neighborhoods by refusing to accept federal grants - those grants having required longer operating hours.
Next it was Mayor Frank Hibbard's turn to take a few swings at the punching bag that Gibson had become that evening. "What bothers me about what you're saying is it's the classic Florida disease, which is 'I've got mine, I don't want you to have yours', and to me it sounds somewhat elitist that you're going to be fine with the people who own these slips…"
"It's got nothing to do with that…" Gibson interrupted
With that, Cretekos, without being recognized and given the floor by Hibbard, moved to approve the development agreement. Petersen seconded the motion. Hibbard, without calling for discussion on the motion, called the question, which passed 4-1, Gibson opposed.
Asked after the meeting if he was satisfied with the outcome, Belle Harbor Owners Association President Ken Robulak said, "I made a presentation that didn't seem to have any effect whatsoever. Our concerns were not thoroughly discussed by the Council members."
Responding to Petersen's assertion of caveat emptor regarding Belle Harbor's location in a tourist district, Robulak said, "Every residential neighborhood should be afforded certain security and lifestyle safeguards. Belle Harbor residents should be treated like those in any of the city's other residential neighborhoods."
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