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    Commission will avoid height fights

    In a 3-2 vote, commissioners decide to leave questions about the size of buildings at Clearwater Beach to a city board.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 11, 2002

    CLEARWATER -- A proposal that would require City Commission approval before any building taller than 100 feet could be built on Clearwater Beach failed Thursday by a vote of 3-2.

    Commissioner Bill Jonson made the proposal after residents came to him with their concerns about tall buildings on the beach.

    City zoning codes generally limit beach construction to 100 feet, but some exceptions are allowed. The Community Development Board makes decisions on such issues.

    Jonson wanted to make sure the commission reviewed site plans for buildings taller than 100 feet. At the Thursday meeting, residents came forward on both sides of the issue, and the proposal was unable to win an additional vote needed for passage.

    Pat Vassar of Clearwater urged commissioners to be accountable to those who elected them. Perhaps, she suggested, the commission would rather avoid the dirty work of making decisions.

    "We're simply asking you all to do what we elected you to do," she said.

    On the other hand, beach resident John Doran, using a book as a prop, said he would much rather have tall buildings with some space to see around them than a number of flat buildings. He feared if the board made the decision on the height of buildings, it would become a political battle.

    In the end, only one other commissioner supported Jonson's proposed ordinance. Commissioner Ed Hart favored the idea because the city's "Beach By Design" plan was amended soon after it was adopted, and he wasn't sure the public understood the rules.

    The rest of the commissioners didn't see it that way.

    Commissioner Whitney Gray said there were good arguments on both sides of the issue, but she could not support the matter because, among other things, the public may address the Community Development Board with their concerns and that there are already high-rise buildings on the beach.

    Besides, some commissioners said, the Community Development Board has performed its duties well.

    "I don't see any decision the Community Development Board has made applying the process that begs to be questioned," said commissioner Hoyt Hamilton.

    Mayor Brian Aungst said the Community Development Board has been cautious in its decisions. Before people call its decisions into question, Aungst said, they should do their homework. If the commission took on more responsibility with land development issues, it would become bogged down in code decisions.

    Later, Jonson explained why he had been so insistent on the commission addressing the matter. He said residents have expressed concerns about trusting government and that he has been sensitive about how perceptions of the commission can be enhanced. Work sessions are a place to obtain information and ask questions, but they are not an appropriate place to make policy issues, he said.

    "After losing a vote, I feel a sense of closure and ability to move on to the next issue," he said.

    Commissioners, particularly Hamilton, agreed that Jonson had the prerogative as a commissioner to place items on the agenda. But Aungst said if commissioners placed every issue on the agenda, it would likely lead to inefficient meetings.

    In other matters, the commission approved 121 N Osceola Ave. as the temporary site for the city's library. The commission also named the property at 900 N Greenwood Ave. the North Greenwood Recreation/Aquatic Complex and named the aquatic center the Ray E. Green Aquatic Center and the recreation center the Dr. Joseph L. Carwise Recreation Center.

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