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    Beach projects top city's agenda

    Administrators want decisions on redevelopment issues. "We're spinning our wheels right now,'' said Assistant City Manager Ralph Stone.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK
    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published December 11, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Despite public complaints at a hearing last week and a debate that went in circles Monday, the City Commission is set to make some significant decisions about beach redevelopment this week.

    City administrators on Monday asked the commission to "take charge" of redevelopment on the beach after a series of proposals for new resorts haven't gone anywhere. The new plan would have the city:

    Finish negotiations to create a 450-space parking garage at the Pelican Walk shopping center on north Clearwater Beach in an effort to revitalize the shopping area.

    Begin designing a new, curvy South Gulfview Boulevard with wide pedestrian trails and sidewalks for outdoor cafes on south Clearwater Beach. The cost of the design is estimated at $100,000 to $500,000, and the cost of the entire project could be as much as $5-million. Officials don't know how they would pay for it, although one possibility is to require property owners who benefit to share the costs.

    Attempt to buy a cluster of old motels east of Coronado Drive between First and Third streets. The city would then create a temporary parking lot there, replacing parking spaces that would have to be removed to redesign Gulfview. Eventually, a garage could be built on the site, Charlie Siemon, the city's top redevelopment consultant, told commissioners.

    If the land can't be bought in six months, then the city would look at other options, such as building a garage at the city's marina or at Pier 60, or possibly creating new public parking spaces along Coronado on city right-of-way that is used without authorization as private parking for motel customers.

    The commission debated the proposals for more than an hour before deciding to discuss them again and take a vote to move forward at Thursday's meeting.

    Monday's debate meandered all over the place.

    Commissioner Hoyt Hamilton questioned whether people would feel they had good access to the beach, parking and walking from a garage a block away on Coronado.

    Commissioner Bill Jonson pointed out small things such as broken curbs on the beach that could be fixed to spruce up the area.

    Commissioner Ed Hart wasn't sure he wanted to move forward until a new resort project was ready to be developed. Hart wanted to consider redeveloping the city's marina.

    Mayor Brian Aungst suggested commissioners hash out beach redevelopment ideas at a special workshop in January before taking any votes.

    But Commissioner Whitney Gray urged the others to make some decisions now.

    "We keep going around the same block over and over and over again," Gray said.

    City administrators tried to reassure commissioners that more detailed proposals will be brought back to them for more debate and final approval next year.

    "It's about taking a step forward" on the beach, said Assistant City Manager Ralph Stone. "Or just tell us to wait until the economy changes. . . . We're spinning our wheels right now, and what we're trying to bring to you is to move those wheels forward."

    Also on Thursday, the commission will take a second and final vote on allowing an upscale 200-unit condominium complex called the Catalina Beach Resort Residences to be built at the current site of the Yacht Basin Apartments.

    Specifically, the commission will vote on whether to change the zoning of the property for the Catalina Beach Resort to allow "high density residential" development and whether to amend the city's beach redevelopment plan, Beach by Design.

    The new complex, which is being built by Connecticut developer David Mack, will have a 99-foot tower and a 130-foot tower, plus lower townhome-style units around the perimeter of the 6.2-acre project at 501 N Mandalay Ave.

    The amendments, which would allow the new condominiums to be built, also would change the rules for future development projects along the Intracoastal Waterway off East Shore Drive, loosening caps on height in the area when developers assemble chunks of land.

    About 120 people showed up at a public hearing last week on the issue, many of them to protest the change.

    Jonson is pushing for the commission to take over the job of approving all development plans when any structure exceeded 100 feet tall on Clearwater Beach. The commission will discuss his idea Thursday.

    The meeting begins at 6 p.m. on the third-floor of City Hall, 112 S Osceola Ave.

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