Developers of the Osceola Bay Club project want its twin towers to rise 179 feet. The Community Development Board delays making a decision.
By CHRISTINA HEADRICK
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2000
CLEARWATER -- The city was willing to give developers a lot of leeway in the construction of a posh $100-million twin-tower condominium complex near downtown.
But when developers of Osceola Bay Club came to a city meeting Tuesday asking for one more concession -- they wanted their buildings to be 179-feet tall -- the city balked.
The developers brought new drawings of their buildings to justify the height increase. The drawings appeared to take members of the Community Development Board by surprise.
"They're changing the whole ballgame," said board member Alex Plisko.
Approval of the condo was postponed to late June, at the urging of the city's planning director, Ralph Stone. Stone said the delay will give city staffers time to analyze the condominium plans presented Tuesday -- and let surrounding neighbors look at them.
The Community Development Board and the City Commission must approve the project, which has been in the works since last year and would be in the 300 block of Osceola Avenue.
Stone said the city has already offered significant concessions to help the condo's developers.
Stone's staff supported allowing the developers to build to a height of 164 feet, although the current cap on height is 30 feet. The extra height requires rezoning of the property, Stone said.
City administrators are also willing to permit the developers to move a segment of Osceola Avenue east and take over a 7-foot-wide stretch of right of way owned by the city.
And city planners are allowing a density of up to 45 units per acre to be built at the condo, for a total of 150 units. Currently, the density is capped at 30 units per acre at the condo's location.
Local developers Gerald Ellenburg, who owns mobile home parks and motels nationally, and Richard Trela, a commercial real estate broker, appeared at Tuesday's city meeting with somewhat different plans.
"With the whole trend toward revitalizing downtown, we think this project will be a good step in that direction" Trela said.
Trela then argued that the Community Development Board should allow the condo to rise to 179 feet, because that height would enhance the buildings' Mediterranean-style. His architect presented new drawings showing a sloping roof line with that height.
The drawings also redesigned the exterior shape of the condominiums to avoid blocking neighboring residents' view of Clearwater Harbor, the architect said.
Stone said his office could not justify the 179-foot height, based on the city code. He then complained that his staff members had not seen the new plans before the meeting, and that made him uncomfortable.
Ed Mazur, another Community Development Board member, complained about the condo proposal not including a landscaping plan. Usually, when the city bends as many rules, Mazur said, it gets something guaranteed in return such as better landscaping.
"Is that something we just cut everybody slack on now?" Mazur asked.
After the board delayed approval, Ellenburg and Trela stood outside the auditorium in City Hall complaining about the meeting. They declined to comment.
Approval of the condo was postponed once before, a month ago, because the developers wanted to close part of Osceola Avenue. The road closure upset residents in Old Clearwater Bay, a neighborhood just north of the proposed condo.
At the urging of city officials, the developers had the road rerouted in their plans to appease the neighborhood, Stone said. But some neighbors of the proposed condo are still upset at how tall they will be, according to letters sent to the city.
The condo site is just north of the Sandcastle, a resortlike retreat offering high-level services in the Church of Scientology. The Sandcastle is currently having floors added, while the church is turning property across the street into a Sandcastle adjunct with 84 rooms.
Ellenburg has said that he wants to market the new condos to the general public.
-- Information from Times files was used in this report.