City Council Moving Slowly Forward on Amendments to Beach by Design

CLEARWATER - At a special meeting on June 17 regarding development issues in Beach by Design, the master plan for future development along Clearwater Beach, it was agreed that council members would meet one-on-one with planning staff  to discuss possible amendments to the document written in 2001.
Earlier this year, it became apparent to some city officials that changes were needed particularly during the controversial approval process of the 171-room Hampton Inn Project on South Gulf view Boulevard. Many objected to the design as being too dense, crammed in between two existing buildings, and said it would ruin the view corridor in the area.
View corridors are designated areas along thoroughfares in which off-premises signs are prohibited. The purpose of such corridors is to preserve views of significant natural vistas or buildings.
Because the project met all development standards outlined by Beach by Design and legally qualified for a density bonus from the hotel density reserve, city officials felt they had no choice but to approve the project.
Density bonuses are a zoning tool that that permits developers to build more housing units, taller buildings or more floor space than normally allowed in exchange for a public benefit, such as affordable housing within the project. 
Hoping to avoid future controversy, the special council meeting was held in June, and planning staff requested clarification from board members as to what they would like to see amended in the Beach by Design guidelines.     
At the council's work session on Monday, planning staff was back in chambers requesting direction on desired amendments.
“Based on our meetings with the mayor and council members, we really didn't find a lot of consensus,” said Gina Clayton, assistant director of planning.
However, based on what they did glean from discussions, staff members were in a position to recommend the following four amendments to Beach by Design:
  • Preclude the use of the hotel density reserve to render nonconforming density units as conforming;
  • Provide greater distances between buildings in the Small Motel District (along Hamden and Coronado drives);    
  • Provide greater distances between buildings in the Old Florida District;
  • Provide for additional design standards that would achieve a higher quality of architectural design.
Staff also recommended that a provision be added to Beach by Design defining operational characteristics to assure that hotel projects using the density reserve are operated on a transient basis and not as time share or fractional interest property. 
Fractional ownership means the costs of buying and running these often expensive properties is shared by a number of people. Instead of sitting idle most of the time, the homes nearly always are in use. These properties, often called residence clubs, comprise one of the fastest-growing segments of the vacation-home market.
With regard to building setback requirements from property lines, Vice Mayor Paul Gibson said, “We always say we're flexible toward zero — I want to get away from that…we should have no less than a 10-foot setback.”
Because there are complex code formulas regarding the relationship between setbacks, building step backs, landscaping and elevation, the council agreed to review a model and make a recommendation when it has more information.  
Gibson, who favors improving architectural design standards, said that “when an average person looks at a building, I want them to say, 'What a good-looking building,' instead of, 'Who approved that!' ”
The vice mayor added that he doesn't want to see any more rectangular boxes like the Pier 60 Hotel being built.
“I would like staff or the Community Development Board to have the power to say no to a design if they don't like it,” concurred Councilman Bill Jonson.
The agenda item ended with little consensus on the proposed amendments, and council promised further discussion down the road.
Addressing the audience, Mayor George Cretekos said, “I hope the rest of the business community can understand the difficulty in working through these issues.” 
Moving forward more expediently are public boardwalk plans in the Marina District. Officials asked the city to approve a capital improvement project to design and construct three access entry nodes for the boardwalk at Baymont and Papaya streets and adjacent to the public parking lot north of Memorial Causeway, connecting to the pedestrian bridge under the causeway.
Project costs equate to $606,500 and include the design of the entire boardwalk that developers will utilize as they bring their projects online.
Work on the Papaya Street entrance likely will begin first to coordinate with the Frenchy's Saltwater II restaurant project expected to begin construction soon. Planning staff recommended approval of a Beach by Design amendment that references the standards by which the boardwalk must comply.
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