Too High, Too Wide, We Don't Like It, But...
By Anne McKay Garris
Under discussion at the Clearwater City Council meeting, Thursday night, was a proposed new hotel for South Clearwater Beach to be located at 101-105 Coronado Drive. It will be 89 feet tall, housing 108 hotel units and taking up so much space on the .72 acre lot that all but one of the set backs are less than 5 feet from the property line. One of them being less than 3 feet. The zoning of the property will ordinarily allow only 32 units but the developer is asking to use 72 of the bonus units which the Council approved some time ago. The purpose of density bonus was to encourage the building of mid-price hotels on the South Beach.
The plan approved by the Council allows a total of 1,385 bonus units on the South Beach, with a maximum of 72 units for any one development. According to discussion at the meeting, it has been determined that this number of units will not unduly impact the traffic situation on Clearwater Beach. So people who stood at the meeting to protest the increased number of cars which would be blocking off exit and entrance to their homes were told it would not be more than traffic experts consider appropriate.
City Planning Official Wayne Wells told the Council that the site plan had been recommended for approval by City Staff and then approved by the Community Development Board, with 13 conditions which must be met before the developer could obtain a building permit.
Since the Code does not allow City Council Members to vote on the site plan, the development was before the Council only for their approval of 72 units from the bonus pool.
One Council Member reported that the Clearwater City Attorney had assured them they had the right to deny the bonus units. Each of them, individually, stated that they thought the building was too high and too large for the size of the lot, although Mayor Frank Hibbard commented that he preferred buildings tall and skinny, rather than short and squat.
Vice Mayor Paul Gibson objected to the size of the adjacent sidewalks, going, at one point from 7 1/2 feet, to 5 feet for a considerable distance, and then back to 6 feet.
"Why would you allow this on the sidewalk," he asked. "For safety's sake the sidewalks should be at least wide enough for a family to walk on."
When staff responded that the 5 feet was all the city owned for a sidewalk beside the property, Vice Mayor Gibson suggested that they require the developer to provide the property necessary to widen the sidewalk. "The city should get something back in return for the extra units," he said. He then expressed concern that this development would be the beginning of the same kind of canyon effect development that is so unattractive on nearby Brightwater Drive.
Trying to explain why the development was allowed on so small a piece of property, Wells said not all property owners want to sell, so a developer finds it difficult to put together an adequate sized site. He added that the value of the property makes the extra units for a hotel to be economically feasible.
Mayor Hibbard corroborated this statement, adding, "Some property owners are reasonable. Some of them need to be Baker Acted. We need to decide if we want to encourage motel rooms or decide we don't."
Then it was the citizens' time to speak as this was, of necessity, a public hearing. Some of them carried large monkey wrenches!
Stephanie Phillips, an experienced travel agent, pointed out that she had always recommended Clearwater Beach to her clients because of the ambiance and the sugar sand beaches. "But," she said, "I can no longer do that. I can't recommend a place with empty buildings, closed shops and thick traffic. We need luxury Inns of 25 units -- elegant small motels."
Long term Clearwater Beach resident, Jay Keyes, who lives in the shadow of the proposed development, sited his long experience at taking over troubled motels and turning them around. "This property," he said, "will be built with many problems."
He suggested that he had seen small luxury Inns succeed where larger motels couldn't make it. "If you build this one, as planned," he predicted, "it will be a cheap hotel or an empty hotel."
Dr. David Hemerick, also a nearby homeowner, had his own monkey wrench to throw into the discussion. He stated that he had done extensive research on the ownership of the bottom land in the Marina basin. The bottom land adjacent to the proposed project, he said, belonged to the city and, with the city's budget strained, there should be consideration of charging the developer for use of the that bottom land.
"The city cannot give away any waterfront property without a vote," he added, "and this matter should be cleared up before you vote on it."
City Attorney Pam Akin agreed that the question of ownership of the bottom land had been before her in the past but she did not want to comment on it. She would prefer to consult her files first. Harbormaster Bill Morris was asked to comment and he said that the former owner of the property had claimed the bottom land and wanted to put a gambling boat there but the subject was dropped before a determination was made about the ownership of the property.
Wells interjected the information that clearing up the question of who owns the bottom land was one of the 13 CDB requirements to be met before a building permit could be issued. Although the CDB was aware enough of the question of ownership of the bottom land to make resolving it a requirement, it was not made a part of the discussion of the site plan and its approval.
Other speakers objected to the loss of view corridors, visual ambiance, the size of the building and its impact on its neighbors as well as the number and extent of the variances allowed by the Planning Department.
A school teacher from Largo who grew up on Clearwater Beach took the time to come and object to what seemed to be "a competition on who can build the highest building and the largest." She spoke of the loss of scenery and the traffic problems.
As is the practice at City Hall, as soon as the public input was closed, the Mayor began to refute the information provided by the citizens. "Did we go through a short process to get to this point?" he asked. "How many public meetings did we have in planning Beach by Design."
Councilmember Carlen Petersen echoed her by defending the Community Development Board of which she was a member.
Councilmember George Cretekos said he didn't like the development, "but it met the code requirements," he said, adding he would vote for the 72 unit bonus but, "I will not vote for another one like it."
Councilmember Paul Gibson explained that he had already stated he would not vote for it and repeated his concern for the sidewalk width. The other indicated their intention of voting in favor of the extra units, but finally decided to continue the issue until the next Council meeting on August 20. At that time it would be explained whether or not changing the site plan to allow the city to have the property to widen the sidewalk and to clarify who owned the adjacent waterfront.
Return to Current Edition