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    Commission fine-tunes its 'visioning' plan

    Leaders hold a second meeting today to hone their long-term plans for the city.

    By JENNIFER FARRELL, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 28, 2002


    CLEARWATER -- Twenty years from now, if city commissioners have their way, dreams of a revitalized downtown and smartly developed beach will have long been reality.

    But first, they have to agree on an approach.

    Today at 2 p.m., commissioners will hold their second brainstorming session as part of an ongoing "visioning" process, geared to help shape Clearwater's future.

    At the first meeting three weeks ago, commissioners started an ambitious wish list that included a monorail to Clearwater Beach, new recreation and entertainment centers, and a push for more industry.

    In the end, they came up with a list of 19 priorities meant to help guide long-term planning.

    The next step is to refine a proposed vision statement drafted by City Manager Bill Horne to describe the commission's view of Clearwater's future.

    "Whether we're going to get this all done tomorrow, I'm not positive," Mayor Brian Aungst said Monday. "I think we'll just be discussing how to prioritize."

    Aungst, who confessed a certain skepticism about the visioning process, said people should remember the list is not exhaustive; specifically, it doesn't include initiatives already under way.

    "I don't always see the benefit of these types of exercises," he said and later added: "It's going to be fruitful if we make it fruitful."

    Commissioner Hoyt Hamilton said officials took criticism after the first session when pet issues such as traffic calming didn't come up.

    "We have traffic calming in place as an ongoing project," he said. "This is all about what has not happened yet and what we feel needs to happen over the next 20 years."

    Hamilton stressed economic development as a top priority and added that public feedback on rejuvenating downtown is vital.

    "What are they willing to buy into, what is the line they're not willing to cross?" he said. "Until we find that line, there are no sacred cows. You've got to be open-minded and go from there."

    Commissioner Bill Jonson said officials should take a step back, to focus on the general, rather than specific, for now.

    "I hope we can sort of get back on track," he said. "We have to have a vision for our vision session, then we can move forward."

    Because 65 percent of the property in Clearwater is listed as residential, Jonson said, one priority is fixed. "Neighborhoods are really our single biggest asset. And you want to keep your assets in good condition," he said.

    Commissioner Frank Hibbard said the first meeting generated a variety of issues, but today's session will give the board a chance to flesh out priorities and rank them.

    "Now we have to really narrow it down and figure out what we're going to look at," he said. "After we narrow it down then the staff can find ways to implement it."

    -- Jennifer Farrell can be reached at 445-4160 or farrell@sptimes.com.

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