Boat slips project revisited

A developer looks at reducing the number of private and public spaces near condos.

Published February 13, 2007

CLEARWATER - A local developer may scale back a controversial boat slip project designed to provide public and private slips on Clearwater Beach.

Any changes, however, would need city approval, and that could be months away.

In December, the City Council agreed to let JMC Communities build a $1.2-million docking area in the basin directly between Belle Harbor condominiums and the recreation center tennis courts off Mandalay Avenue.

The approval came despite complaints by residents who said the city was giving away precious underwater land, and that it should build the slips on its own. Residents also said the project would harm wildlife, create noise and cause pollution.

The council, though, said the city couldn't afford to build the docks, and that Clearwater was getting a great deal. It also felt the project would lure visitors.

According to the proposal, the developer would let its nearby Sandpearl condominium and hotel residents use 33 slips and the city would have 21 that the public could use for free during the day.

Now, the deal might be restructured.

Belle Harbor residents recently met with JMC officials and were told the project will probably be scaled back from 54 slips to 42.

Ed Armstrong, who represents JMC Communities, said officials were "surprised and concerned about the objections" of the condominium owners and wanted to extend an olive branch.

"This is an effort to address those concerns in a very positive manner," Armstrong said.

This plan would eliminate slips in the shallow inlet set aside for the city and move them farther into the channel. The city would then get only 15 slips, according to the residents.

The residents who fought against the initial plan say this one is an improvement.

"No question about it," said Marty Altner. "All the slips are moved out, so we won't have the kind of activity, which can get a bit raucous in an area we know is too shallow.

"I'm sure there are still people here who rather see this not happening, but the consensus is that this is much more realistic. We just wanted the project to make sense."

Ken Robulak, president of the Belle Harbor Owners Association, said he doesn't expect any further opposition from residents.

Mayor Frank Hibbard said he isn't familiar with the proposal, other than that it reduces the number of slips.

"I'd like the ratio of (public to private slips) to be as good if not better if they want another bite of the apple," the mayor said. "We'll have to analyze it."

JMC representatives could not be reached for comment Monday.

Under the current plan, JMC will pay the city $5,400 annually in rent. The city can renew the option every five years or buy the docks. The price would diminish each year, based on the project's $1.2-million cost.

JMC would maintain the facilities, add security gates to the public docks and have Sandpearl staffers lock them at midnight.

Boat slips are a hot issue in Clearwater right now. The city would like to build 129 slips, a boardwalk and a fishing pier near Coachman Park.

If voters approve this project in March, the $10.9-million development should be finished in 2009 and be paid for mostly through rental fees.