Board Okay's Mandalay Docks
by Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - If the members of Clearwater's Community Development board suffered from heartburn following their annual holiday luncheon on December 18th, it was not due to the quality of their meal, but to a contentious 2-hour hearing that was the first item on their meeting agenda later in the day.
At issue was the approval or denial of an application for a 14-slip multi-use dock facility on Mandalay Channel at 685-699 Bay Esplanade. The docks would be an amenity for an already approved, but not yet built, 16-unit condominium complex on that site.
Because the upland properties straddle Somerset Street, which provides public access to the waterfront, the dock facility was designed with two separate components, the northern dock proposed to extend 89-feet into Mandalay Channel and the southern dock at 111-feet.
The proposed docks lie in the Old Florida District, just south of the residential neighborhood of north Clearwater Beach. The northern dock also protrude into an area of Mandalay Channel that was designated as a water recreation zone by the Clearwater City Council in March 2006. That action allowed boats 25-feet or less to travel at speeds required for waterskiing and wakeboarding.
Mark Smith, who resides just north of the proposed docks, was the project's strongest critic. Local attorney Nathan Hightower represented him at the hearing. Hightower argued that the proposed docks were "clearly incompatible' with shorter nearby docks; "This is going to stick out like a sore thumb," he claimed.
Hightower also pointed out that the design of the proposed docks was rejected by the city's Marine Advisory Board, and claimed that the board had concerns with water depth and impacts to navigation in the waterway. "The board's vote should be given great consideration," Hightower argued.
In a curious circumvention of hearing rules, Smith also took the podium to argue on his own behalf, using time given to him by a neighbor. "This is a bad design," Smith claimed. He argued that the docks would narrow Mandalay Channel and would make it difficult for sailboats to navigate the waterway. Smith also expressed concern for sea grasses that he found in the area, and claimed that the water depth was insufficient for the size of boats that would be docked at the facility.
But in the quasi-judicial realm of CDB hearings, it's not politics but law that rules. City Planner Scott Kurleman explained that with only one exception, the proposed docks were consistent with Clearwater's Community Development Code. That one exception was the 111-foot length of the southern dock; because of the upland property width, the code allows only 93.75-feet, Kurleman said.
But while dock length is limited by property width, the code also allows the installation of tie poles as far out as 25-percent of the waterway width.
In the case of the southern dock, tie poles could extend 20 to 25 feet beyond the code-compliant dock length of 93.75-feet, or nearly 120-feet into the waterway, Kurleman explained. Given the choice of a 111-foot dock or unlit tie poles extending out even further, Kurleman said that safety would favor a lighted 111-foot dock.
Board member Frank Dame, an advocate of boating safety and former member of the Marine Advisory Board, agreed that a longer dock with lights was a safer alternative to unlit tie poles. He also observed that the southern dock lies in a minimum wake zone, causing boaters to reduce their speed as they approach and further minimizing safety concerns.
But Dame was not satisfied with some aspects of the dock, and proposed several conditions that would benefit the marine environment, safety and esthetics. He suggested the elimination of boat lifts on the slips nearest the seawall, prohibiting the installation of tie poles east of the southern dock, requiring illumination of the east end of the southern dock and allowing only low-profile boat lifts.
Both his colleagues and the applicant accepted Dame's conditions, and the dock application was approved by the CDB unanimously.
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