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    Public to have say in beach road closing

    Clearwater commissioners want to hear what residents think about removing part of Gulfview Boulevard to make way for two resorts.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Public hearings will be held soon on a plan to remove a segment of Gulfview Boulevard so two proposed resorts would be adjacent to the beach, city commissioners agreed Thursday.

    Several commissioners said the public's view of the idea will help determine its future.

    "I'm willing to consider, to listen, to all kinds of ideas," Commissioner Whitney Gray said. "That doesn't mean I like all kinds of ideas. I think the public ought to listen to this now."

    The proposal is part of a plan that could resolve four lawsuits launched by beach hotelier Tony Markopoulos against the city and the would-be developers of a 250-room Marriott Seashell Beach Resort on S Gulfview Boulevard. The proposed Seashell is just south of Markopoulos' cluster of aging motels, where he has plans to develop an even larger resort.

    Markopoulos and Seashell developers Richard Gehring and Bill Kimpton said they would try to hold public meetings within the month.

    The developers also highlighted what they said were their proposal's many benefits, including a promise to finance $6-million to $9-million in improvements to the beachfront around their properties.

    They would give the city some land and pay for widening Coronado Drive from two lanes to four lanes, with a fifth lane for traffic to line up as it waits to enter large public parking garages within the resorts.

    "We know it's controversial," said Kimpton, who is a local attorney. "We know it's going to get distorted. But the truth is we're trying to give people a better beach."

    Beach resident and civic activist Anne Garris approached the podium several times to suggest the ideas were flawed.

    Garris also warned the commission not to approve giving a portion of Gulfview and Third Street to the Seashell's developers. The vote had been scheduled as part of a series of approvals to move the Seashell forward, before Markopoulos began challenging the decisions in court.

    Garris read from the city charter.

    "It says (a street) may not be vacated if it provides access to the gulf," Garris said. "Not long ago three of you, and then the other two, swore to uphold the charter of the city of Clearwater. Now are you going to uphold it? Or are you going to look the other way and say that isn't what it means?"

    City Attorney Pam Akin said that she did not feel that the street vacations violated the charter, noting that neither roadway terminated directly on the beach.

    Commissioners voted 3-2 to move ahead with vacating the streets for the Seashell, with Commissioners Ed Hart and Bill Jonson voting against it.

    Hart said that he has spoken with the Pinellas Planning Council and the group's staff is planning to oppose the city's overall beach redevelopment plan, called Beach by Design. With so much in flux about the beach, he wanted to postpone votes on issues related to beach redevelopment.

    In other business, the commission:

    Voted to ask county officials to downsize the proposed Keene Road extension through Skycrest from six lanes to a maximum of four lanes.

    Okayed a $737,000 project to install gabion baskets along the banks of Allen's Creek and Linn Lake to try to stem shoreline erosion.

    Approved borrowing $46.4-million to be repaid with the city's Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenues to finance the construction of the large beach roundabout, the new main library downtown and the new Memorial Causeway bridge to Clearwater Beach.

    Received an update on costs of the bridge: $59.4-million for the project plus about $5.1-million in borrowing costs. The project is to be financed with state, federal and county funds, in addition to an estimated $20.8-million in city funds.

    Debated an ordinance that would allow the city to regulate "rave" clubs by requiring them to get city permits, close by 2 a.m. and prevent drug use or under-age alcohol abuse on the properties.

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