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    Gulfview won't close for beach resorts

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Gulfview Boulevard, the road that provides motorists a glimpse of south Clearwater Beach, will not be closed to allow two large resorts to be built next to the sand, the City Commission decided Thursday.

    Commissioners voiced strong support for preserving the roadway and the public atmosphere of the city's beach after an outpouring of complaints from residents about the road closure.

    "Stick a fork in it," Mayor Brian Aungst said. "It ain't going to happen. It's done."

    The road closure had been proposed as a way to settle a tangle of four lawsuits filed by beach hotel owner Tony Markopoulos against the city and a local development company to halt the creation of a 250-room Marriott resort next door to Markopoulos' properties, which include the Days Inn.

    Markopoulos has proposed a much larger resort, but he has never submitted detailed plans to the city. He filed the lawsuits after city officials told him they did not think there would be support for Gulfview to be closed for his project.

    Markopoulos then teamed up with the Marriott's developers to propose that Gulfview be closed and both projects be built next to the beach. But any questions about the public's support for a road closure were answered in the past two weeks.

    "They weren't shy," said Clearwater attorney Bill Kimpton, who has been trying to develop the Marriott.

    Gordon Schiff, a Tampa attorney for Markopoulos, told commissioners that his client respected the public's opinions.

    Schiff said he would work to bring back an alternative proposal to settle Markopoulos' litigation against the Marriott developers and the city. But Markopoulos' camp would not comment on what a settlement might include.

    Markopoulos denies that he is considering selling his land to another developer, although city administrators say they have fielded inquiries from other development groups wanting to buy the property.

    Markopoulos also said he doesn't know if the development of his land would be feasible without some closure of Gulfview.

    Commissioner Ed Hart suggested that the city could work on improving law enforcement on Gulfview to curb noisy, rowdy cruising on the street, which Markopoulos has complained disturbs hotel patrons.

    Both commissioners and residents who spoke at Thursday's commission meeting expressed hope that Markopoulos would find a way to foster beach redevelopment, rather than hindering it with litigation.

    "I thought that maybe now he would rather not be the Grinch that stole Clearwater Beach, that maybe he would rather be the Santa Claus that comes along and saves it," said Clare Dyer, who lives on the beach.

    The road closure wasn't the only issue that drew public debate.

    The commission voted 3-2 to execute a deal with Florida Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. and Tarpon Springs Coca-Cola Bottling Co. to give exclusive access to the soft-drink maker to vend its products in all city facilities, from parks to libraries.

    The deal is projected to generate up to $2.5-million in revenues and other perks for the city over 10 years, mainly from sales commissions generated each time a soft drink is sold.

    Commissioners Hart and Bill Jonson voted against the deal. Jonson complained that he had received complaints from the public, including criticism that the arrangement would further commercialize the city and add sign clutter. Hart said he voted against it because he had not had ample time to review the proposal.

    The commission also voted to allow the Island Estates neighborhood to proceed with a study to draft special city rules that would apply only to development in the neighborhood. The major goal would be to create regulations to keep homes in the area looking uniform over time as deed restrictions lapse.

    * * *

    WHAT HAPPENED THURSDAY: The City Commission said it would not approve closing part of S Gulfview Boulevard so two resorts could be built next to the beach.

    WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: The city seeks the Pinellas County Commission's approval for an overall redevelopment plan for the beach, which includes ideas to beautify Gulfview and allow extra hotel rooms to be built in the area.

    WHAT ELSE: Talks continue to see if the developers of the two proposed resorts on Gulfview can settle lawsuits that threaten to stall redevelopment plans.

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