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    Rezoning approved for office complex

    The Clearwater City Commission narrowly decides that the property owner's rights must win out over the historic Bayview neighborhood's protests against commercialization.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- An historic neighborhood that once successfully lobbied to change the path of the Bayview Bridge lost out Thursday to an office complex.

    The Clearwater City Commission voted 3-2 to change the zoning on a 4.5-acre parcel at 3035 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., allowing development of an 84-foot-tall office tower and parking garage at the site.

    The decision capped more than three years of community opposition to the office complex and three hours of public protests against it Thursday night.

    "This is a tough one," said Mayor Brian Aungst, "but it comes down to the right of a property owner versus people in the area."

    Commissioner Ed Hart and Aungst voted against the rezoning, while Commissioners David Hemerick, Bob Clark and J.B. Johnson approved it.

    "We're disappointed," said Breck Parker, a retired attorney who had represented Historic Bayview, where he lives, and a coalition of other groups opposing the office tower. About a fourth of the trees on site would be lost to the development.

    The opposition included not just Bayview residents but also local history buffs, environmentalists and American Indians, who said the site would be better preserved as a park.

    They also noted its proximity to the city's first settlement, Bayview, and two Native American archaeological sites.

    "We'll go to the county now," Parker said, alluding to the fact that the Pinellas County Commission will have to approve the zoning change before it is final. "Our hope springs eternal."

    Tim Johnson, the Clearwater attorney representing the would-be developer of the site, Coastal Builders Inc., argued that his clients had done everything they could to allay concerns about the development.

    "It's hard to sit here and listen to over two dozen people tell you what they don't want," Johnson said, but he encouraged the commission to look at the facts.

    In response to community concerns, Johnson said, they had reduced the size of the office building, moved it away from homes and large trees to the south and the west of the site, performed an archaeological study to show no Indian artifacts were present, and calculated that traffic on Gulf-to-Bay would not be affected.

    Protesters were not persuaded. They submitted 1,300 petitions opposing the proposal.

    They complained the building would still be huge, kill nearby trees and hurt the venerable neighborhood of Historic Bayview, an area with just 14 homes.

    "This is going to open a floodgate for the entire neighborhood to become commercial," said resident Sam Mahfoud.

    Bill Reed, a St. Petersburg environmental activist, complained, "This is like Godzilla versus Bambi. You're going to have this monster building towering over a historic neighborhood. Why would anybody want to look like Tampa?"

    The commission was also scheduled to address a proposed sewer rate increase, but at press time that discussion had not begun.

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