CLEARWATER - On Febraury 17th the Clearwater City Council heard a rematch of opposing arguments regarding a proposed agreement for the development of a resort hotel on Clearwater Beach. The "Main Event", as it had been called during their December 16 2004 meeting, pitted the City's planning department versus representatives of Dr. Kiran Patel's K & P Clearwater Estate in a battle over the design of the 150-foot tall structure located at the entry to South Clearwater Beach, and the award of 250 units from Beach by Design's hotel unit pool.
The Staff recommendation for denial of the agreement stood on two legs. Although complementing the design of the west-facing facade, staff claimed that the building's east side, that facing Coronado, was too massive and was not compliant with Beach by Design's 40% solid/60% open space rule. Staff had argued that the building's massiveness was due in part to the 250 bonus units being requested from the City. Planning Director Cyndi Tarapani explained to the Council their authority to rule on what the developer claimed was a site plan issue; "Your granting of the beach pool density units is conditioned upon the project meeting the goals of the beach plan and furthering your goals for Clearwater Beach," she said.
Attorney Tim Johnson, representing the developer, told the council that Beach by Design has 14 criteria for the granting of density units; "None of them are what she (Tarapani) read off to you," "Look as hard as you will at the (Beach by Design) guidelines regarding the granting density units and you will not find in there that you have to meet the 40% rule," he added, and described an earlier Community Development Board approval of the site plan that overruled a similar staff recommendation.
Staff also objected to the pedestrian bridge connecting the proposed resort to the dry sand beach across Gulfview Blvd. Planning Director Cyndi Tarapani said, "The staff still is conceptually opposed to the bridge due to the esthetic concerns we have and the concern that it may lead to additional bridge requests down Gulfview Blvd."
Attorney Johnson defended the resort's proposed pedestrian bridge, claiming that it improves pedestrian safety and avoids pedestrian/vehicle conflicts that could back traffic up into the Roundabout. He argued that the bridge was not precedent setting, that each development is different and should be considered on its own merits.
Parking is always an issue on Clearwater Beach, and it remains so with the proposed Patel resort. Staff had objected to the resorts dedication of 85 public parking spaces, claiming that their valet access could cause a backup in this traffic-intensive area of the beach. Attorney Tim Johnson said that the offer of those 85 spaces had been rescinded because of staff criticism, but claimed that the project has 191 more parking spaces than required by City code and that they will be rented to the public on a space-available basis.
As expected, Council Members Hamilton and Doran favored the project. Hamilton said, "This is one of the projects that Beach Walk was drawn-up around...It's time to build this thing and I will support it." Doran asked, "Is it (this project) worth it to the City?", and did a balance sheet-like evaluation, comparing the gain and loss of parking, the vacation of First Street versus the construction of a new Second Street, the merits of a land swap that facilitates Beach Walk construction, the granting of 250 bonus pool units versus the benefits of a new 350-room conference hotel, and developer funding of his pro-rata share of Beach Walk construction costs. "It will be a boost to tourism and a boost for redevelopment...I conclude that approval of this development agreement is in the best interest of the City of Clearwater," he said.
Council Members Petersen and Jonson, also as expected, were not supportive of the project. Petersen was looking for something more in return for the City's 250 density units, primarily parking. "I want dedicated parking in this building," she said adding, "To me this is one of the things the developer can give back to us." Petersen saw the pedestrian bridge as something intended for the hotel guests, not the public, and the building's mass as being non-compliant with Beach by Design.
Council Member Jonson said, "Bottom line, I don't think this project is soup yet." He criticized the "blocky" design of the pedestrian bridge and questioned whether it was needed. He showed an illustration of the proposed resort next to the already approved Hyatt and expressed concern about its size; "This drawing scares the heck out of me. It's huge, it's massive," he said. He valued the City's contribution of 250 bonus units as a public investment of $10 million, but said that 42% of the buildings space was condos; "I don't think that is consistent with our intent; we're really trying to develop a resort here, not 3/5 resort and 2/5 condo," he said.
In this game of chicken, pitting the Council's approval of the resort versus the threat that the property would otherwise be developed as condos, no one had yet blinked. Mayor Frank Hibbard, who in December had an issue with the buildings mass, now only expressed concern that the pedestrian bridge was not open to the public from both sides. Hibbard ultimately indicated his intent to approve the resort, saying that its "Wedding Cake" design was better than what was presented in December. But in a classic example of negotiating from the dais, he placed a condition on his approval - the provision of public elevators on both sides of the pedestrian bridge. Attorney Tim Johnson quickly agreed.
The resort was approved by a 3-2 vote, Doran, Hamilton and Hibbard for, Jonson and Petersen against. While the Council has approved the development, two more approvals are necessary for the project to proceed: CDB approval of the relocated pedestrian bridge, and staff approval of the "Wedding Cake" design.
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