CLEARWATER - Mayor Frank Hibbard dropped a bombshell at the conclusion of the City Council work session on Monday.
Hibbard said the he met with ex Clearwater Commissioner Fred Thomas, a prominent member of Save the Bayfront, last week, and discussed the group's outlook on the city's downtown boat slip proposal. The news was not good for proponents of the plan; he recounted what Thomas said; "They believe that the most important thing is the views on the north side of the Memorial Causeway are maintained, and that boats will detract from those views. So they have said that they will oppose anything north of Memorial Causeway. They are in full support of the design to the south of the causeway," Hibbard said.
According to Hibbard, Save the Bayfront asked that the planned November referendum contain two ballot questions, one asking approval of the city's design, and the other asking approval of their design. Although City Attorney Pam Akin said that it would be possible to place the two questions on the ballot independently, the Council agreed to go to the voters with only the city's design.
Contacted after the meeting, Save the Bayfront Chairperson Anne Garris confirmed the groups concern with cluttering the water view from Coachman Park. The issue is not only with the docks and boats she said, but also with the pilings that would be needed to allow the floating docks to rise and fall with the tides and withstand category 2 hurricanes, projecting some 15-feet above the water's surface.
Garris said, "Save The Bayfront is in favor of boat slips and docks, but not between Coachman Park and the open view of the water. In the interest of compromise, we support boat slips south of the new Memorial Causeway Bridge and in other places, especially on the causeway land west of the intracoastal which is more accessible for boaters, has room for restaurants, convenient restrooms and bath houses and other amenities needed by boaters. A marina at this location would subject the boats to less wave action, have more accessible slips, and provide more amenities than what the City has on the ballot. It will make good use out of currently unused land without taking something away from the people of Clearwater."
The stage is set for yet another referendum battle, Save the Bayfront ready to defend the public's use of Coachman Park. Garris said, "The City government consistently ignores fact that the majority of the voters, in three referendums so far, have voted to retain the "open space recreation" use."
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