Marina Property Protected - Maybe
By Anne McKay Garris
"Any lease or license of the land for a new purpose for a period longer than 30 years" is the controversial phrase in the Local Bill which will remove the State's reverter limitation from the Clearwater Beach Marina property.
State Representative Jim Frishe was asked by the City of Clearwater to sponsor a bill which would remove a reverter clause from the property, given to the City of Clearwater in 1925, for the purpose of building Memorial Causeway. The reverter clause stated that any use of the property for anything other than recreation or open space would result in a return of the property to the State. The bill, as presented by the City, would have left the Marina property open for almost any kind of development and, indeed, the Clearwater City Manager stated that a developer was already talking to the City about building a high rise hotel on the site.
At a public hearing on the matter, conducted by Representative Frishe, members of the public who spoke were 100% in favor of the kind of use now in place at the Marina. Mayor Frank Hibbard told the people that no developer had contacted the City about developing the property since 2003.
Representative Frishe, hearing the people, rewrote the bill to that anything other than what is there, or open space and recreation use, would require a referendum. The City protested that this would prevent their even "painting new stripes for the parking lot."
The phrase no new use leased for longer than 30 years was added to the bill and, last Monday, the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation passed the bill as written.
A representative for the citizen's committee that has been working to make sure the Marina property is protected from private development told the delegation that the 30 years or longer phrase makes it possible for private development to happen without a referendum. She added that a member of the Legislative delegation was known to have a financial interest in developing the property.
In response, Representative Ed Hooper who has represented a number of developers in Clearwater, stated that the citizen was undoubtedly talking about him, but assured the delegation that he no longer had a financial interest in the property.
Attorney Peter Dunbar, who is lobbyist for the City of Clearwater in Tallahassee, also assured the legislative delegates that the City had no intention of doing a large development there, that they simply wanted to be able to rebuild the building and provide leases for the businesses already in place.
Although Representative Frishe was heavily lobbied to remove the controversial phrase, he indicated that he had done extensive research to assure himself that it would not open the door for excessive changes on the property.
The bill will now go to Tallahassee where it must be advertised and must pass several committees before it comes before the whole Senate to be approved.
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