No Agreement on Clearwater's "Reverter Clause" Local Bill
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - As of last week, there had been no public discussion in City Hall this year of Clearwater's proposed local bill that would alter the State of Florida reverter clause on the Municipal Marina property on Clearwater Beach.
That all changed on Monday night as Mayor Frank Hibbard, Vice Mayor Paul Gibson and Councilmembers John Doran and George Cretekos took seats in the audience to observe a public meeting conducted by Florida House Representative Jim Frishe (R, St Petersburg).
Frishe, whose district includes Clearwater Beach and the Marina property, had been asked by the city to sponsor the local bill in the 2010 legislative session, having declined to do so last year because he received too short notice. Frishe called Monday's meeting to hear public comment on the city's controversial proposal.
About sixty citizens attended the meeting and fourteen of them spoke, all with some degree of concern about, or opposition to, the city's effort to free the marina from language in the 1925 Act of the Florida Legislature that gave the city the land and submerged land to build the Memorial Causeway.
The 1925 language reverts ownership of the dredged and filled land of the Marina to the State of Florida if that land is used for other than "public parks and places of recreation." The proposed local bill replaces parks and recreation with uses consistent with "the Florida Coastal Management Program, the Waterfronts Florida Program, City of Clearwater Comprehensive Plan, City of Clearwater Code of Ordinances, and other applicable law."
Among the uses described in the proposed local bill are "water-dependent support facilities such as lodging, boat hauling and repair, and commercial fishing activities."
It's the lodging piece that caused beach residents to fear that a high rise hotel might take the place of the existing "quaint" (or old, depending on your point of view) building that is both a gathering place and a roof over small businesses that serve both locals and tourists. "I have a vision of another Hyatt sitting there," said beach resident Pat Power.
Distrust of the city permeated the pleas of the local bill's opponents. Dave Muzio, President of the Island Estates Civic Association, said that his organization wanted the reverter clause to stay in place; "We think it's the protection we have against the city," he said. Beach resident Anne Garris echoed Muzio's sentiments; "We've got more faith in the legislature," she said.
Citizens were concerned that the modified reverter clause would allow the city to sell the Marina property, an act that the city itself said would be possible. But Frishe and Hibbard had come to an agreement before the meeting that would include language requiring a public referendum before the property could be sold. The Clearwater City Council, however, has not had an opportunity to vote on the modified language.
Both Frishe and Hibbard explained that the 1925 reverter clause needed modification because it could be triggered by existing uses such as the lease with the Crabby Bill's restaurant on the Marina property. Some saw that as a good outcome; "Wouldn't it be wonderful if it reverted to the State and they made it a State Park," asked Garris.
'We value our Marina as it is," said Garris, "If you would just say nothing but a two story building there, that will settle it all. And I'm not joking."
"Leave the reverter clause alone until our City Council acknowledges that this [the Municipal Marina] is the people's property and that they will have a public hearing and they will listen to us about what they want there. They've had three years to do it, and it hasn't happened," Garris concluded.
Despite the concerns and objections of his constituents, Frishe will sponsor Clearwater's local bill to his colleagues on the Pinellas Legislative Delegation, but not before he makes several changes to it. Frishe said that he will add the language requiring a referendum before sale of the property, and "tighten-up" the conforming uses wording. The Gazette will publish Frishe's version of the local bill on our website, www.clearwatergazette.com, when it is available.
The Legislative Delegation will meet on Tuesday, November 10, 2009 from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM at St. Petersburg College's Clearwater campus in the Arts Auditorium located at 2465 Drew Street in Clearwater.
They will meet again on December 14, 2009 from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM at St. Petersburg City Hall in the City Council Chambers, 175 Fifth Street North, St. Petersburg. The delegation will then take final action on local bills.
The public will be invited to speak on Clearwater's reverter clause local bill at both meetings. No forms need be submitted in advance; a sign-up sheet will be available on-site the morning of each meeting.
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