CLEARWATER - A long awaited hearing of proposed changes to Beach By Design, the master plan for Clearwater Beach redevelopment, was finally held on February 21 by Clearwater's Community Development Board (CDB).
The changes were initiated by the City's Planning Department to correct inconsistencies in land use regulations in the Old Florida District of the beach, and to provide an incentive for the retention and redevelopment of beach hotels.
The Old Florida District, bounded by Somerset Street on the north and Rockaway Street on the south, is recognized as a transition area between the high-rise hotels and condominiums in the central beach and the residential neighborhood to the north. Mixed-use developments would be permitted along Mandalay Avenue, and both attached dwellings and overnight accommodations permitted in the rest of the district.
Height restrictions are always an issue on Clearwater Beach, and the proposed rules for the Old Florida District are no exception. The Planning Department proposed a maximum height in the district of 65 feet, stepping down at Somerset Street to a limit of 50 feet on its south side and 35 feet on its north side. Both the 35 and 65-foot limits came under attack during the hearing.
Suzanne Boschen, owner of the Seagull Apartments at the northeast corner of Somerset and Mandalay, complained, "I'm having my height slashed by 1/3." She explained that her property today has a height limit of 50 feet, and the new rules would reduce that to 35 feet. She asked the CDB to recommend at least a 40-foot height limit on the north side of Somerset, allowing any future redevelopment of her property to have another floor.
Kathryn Ziola, the owner of property on the south side of Somerset, echoed Boschen's concern with the 35-foot limit. Observing that single family homes to the north can have a mid-roof height of 35 feet, she said, "So you're telling the few people that are on the other (north) side of Somerset that they can't have another story on their building because a decline is now a straight line as opposed to a slanted decrease in height. I just don't think that's fair; I think it should remain the way it's zoned."
Ziola also took exception to the 65-foot limit in the rest of the district, a height that was developed during a series of public meetings in 2005. She observed that many of those who voted for the 65-foot limit were not property owners in the Old Florida District; "For the most part, there were some people that weren't even living on Clearwater Beach - they were from Canada and Germany. One lady didn't want us to tear down the motel that she always rents for three months because she wouldn't be able to afford to come back here. Meanwhile the motel can't afford to keep itself going," she said.
Jerry Murphy, representing the Clearwater Beach Association, favored the Staff-recommended height limits. "We strongly support the Planning Department's efforts to bring some stabilization to this and get some good compromises if necessary. But compromise only at this point, not wait till later on and have lawyers negotiate a 60 foot building to 98," he said.
Beach resident Anne Garris expressed concern with the permitted 10-foot flexibility in building setbacks. "I suggest less vague and more definable standards for flexibility," she said; " To me, Old Florida means open space between buildings so that you can know the water is there."
Ken Hamilton, proprietor of the Palm Pavilion restaurant in the Old Florida District, argued for relaxing the proposed height limit to 75 feet. "What it will do is improve the units that might be built out there. There will be slightly higher ceilings which makes them more valuable which adds more to the property tax rolls and those kind of things," he said.
The proposed amendments also include a provision that would increase the permitted density for overnight accommodations from 40 to 50 units per acre, providing an incentive for new or redeveloped beach hotels. But Hamilton opined that the slight increase in density was inadequate; "I don't know what the answer is, but you're not going to get any transient accommodations out of this … without the height, you're not going to get there," he said.
The CDB, acting in an advisory capacity, voted 6-1 to recommend City Council approval of the proposed amendments, with one revision - increasing the Old Florida height limitation to 75-feet, but retaining the staff-recommended 35-foot limit on the north side of Somerset.
The City Council will conduct a hearing and vote on the proposed amendments to Beach by Design during their March 2nd meeting.
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