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Plan drops voters from equation

A committee wants to give the Clearwater City Council the power to sell or lease property zoned for recreation.

By MIKE DONILA, Times Staff Writer
Published September 13, 2007


CLEARWATER - A City Council-appointed committee wants to make it easier to sell and develop public land set aside for recreational activities and parks.

But the plan still needs council and voter approval and so far, it hasn't been well received by residents and city leaders.

A majority of the Charter Review Committee, which has spent the past seven months picking through Clearwater's guidelines for governing and operating, believes the city should eliminate a measure requiring voters to approve the sale or lease of any city property zoned for "open space recreation."

Currently, this type of property, found mostly along the beachfront, the Memorial Causeway and the city marina, can be used only for public recreation and parks activities.

The committee, however, recommended changing the rules so that a unanimous five-member City Council could approve a sale, bypassing voters.

The committee also recommends lifting restrictions that limit development in downtown Coachman Park to recreation use or utility construction.

These proposals are expected to go to the City Council in October. The council could either kill them or give residents a chance in March to vote on them.

So far, though, the plans haven't garnered much support.

On Tuesday, more than 25 people attended a public hearing to discuss the recommendations and residents were overwhelmingly opposed.

"If you have something going on that's just so awesome ... then why don't you just tell the public and we'd recognize it and approve it," said longtime beach resident Suzanne Boschen. "I have a problem leaving it in the hands of five elected officials who may have their own agenda."

Jan Regulski, who has lived in east Clearwater since 1962, added: "I can't imagine an issue that's so compelling that it has to be put out immediately (to the council) and can't be voted on by the citizens."

Mayor Frank Hibbard, who was not at the meeting, said he was "99.99 percent sure" residents wouldn't sign off on the plans.

But some committee members feel the current rules handcuff the council. They said the council would act in the best interest of the public, which brought a slight chuckle from residents at Tuesday's meeting.

"It's much more difficult to convince five commissioners to vote unanimously than it would be to convince 51 percent of the (residents)," said Howard Warshauer, the committee's vice chair. "I think we made it more restrictive."

About every five years, the council appoints at least 10 residents to the Charter Review Committee.

The committee meets regularly for about seven months and decides whether the charter needs updating. The committee looks over the entire charter, although much of its focus is on areas council or committee members feel could be changed.

The committee meets again Thursday and later this month to discuss the public's reaction.

"By no means is this final," said committee member Frank Dame. "We'll talk about it again."

[Last modified September 12, 2007, 21:03:07]

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