CLEARWATER - The small, quiet cove just south of the Clearwater Beach Recreation Center and pool, once the home of the Clearwater Yacht Club, may soon be bustling with activity if the Sandpearl resort obtains the approval of the Clearwater City Council for a submerged land lease.
In Sandpearl's original development agreement, the city promised to help negotiate a Soveriegnty Submerged Lands Lease (SSLL) with the State of Florida for the cove, and authorize the construction of a docking facility that would be accessed via the city-owned upland property.
But it was later discovered that the city, not the state, owns the submerged land. A new agreement was hammered out between Sandpearl and City of Clearwater staff for the submerged land lease, boat dock construction and access to the docks via the city's upland property. That proposed agreement is scheduled to come before the City Council at its next public meeting on December 14th.
The agreement would allow Sandpearl to construct a docking facility with 54 slips, consisting of 11 side tie-ups, 21 slips for boats up to 40 feet, 12 for boats less than 30 feet and 10 for boats less than 26 feet. The public would have access to 21 of the slips for day use only.
According to Sandpearl spokesperson Ed Armstrong, the primary focus of the remaining 33 slips would be as an amenity for Sandpearl resort guests. But with an uncertain market for those slips, he said that the proposed agreement allows the Sandpearl to lease some of the slips to nearby residents and to construct boat lifts at some of the docks.
To limit the potential parking demand, only those residing between Papaya Street on the south and Rockaway Street on the north would be eligible to lease slips, opening the market to residents of the Mandalay Beach Club and Belle Harbor in addition to the Sandpearl. The planned condominiums behind Pelican Walk also fit the footprint described in the proposed agreement.
Under the preliminary terms of the agreement, the lease will be for a term of 5 years, renewable at the city's option for five additional 5-year terms. If the city declines to renew the lease, it would be forced to buy-out Sandpearl of its original construction cost less straight-line depreciation over 30 years. Bill Morris, Clearwater's Director of Marine and Aviation, estimated Sandpearl's cost of dock construction and repair of the existing seawall at nearly $2-million.
Sandpearl would lease the submerged land from the city for $5435 per year, reduced by the cost to Sandpearl of maintaining the public portion of the facility. The city's obligation for maintenance would be capped at $5435 per year, meaning that the city might receive no rent in high-maintenance years, but would not have to pay for any repairs to the public docks.
The proposed lease rate is equivalent to that charged by the State of Florida for commercial and multi-family docks over its submerged lands, according to Armstrong. Florida's leases are only for the submerged land, not the upland property that is typically owned by the lessee, and its rates do not reflect the value of that upland property via which the docks are accessed.
That is not the case in the proposed lease between Sandpearl and the city. The upland property is public, owned by the City of Clearwater, and the proposed lease rate does not seem to reflect the value of the upland access to the docks. Armstrong defended the lease rate, saying, "We don't have exclusive right to the upland property; we just traverse across it. The public will be sharing the same access to get to the day slips."
If the Clearwater City Council approves the proposed lease next week, Sandpearl will still have hurdles to jump before the cove becomes a dock facility; the State of Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has raised objections to the design of the proposed docks.
Among other issues, DEP is concerned that the dock configuration impairs safe navigation within the channel because it exceeds 25-percent of the width of the waterway. Clearwater's own development code also limits dock construction to no more than 25-percent of the waterway width. Sandpearl's current dock design extends to nearly 50-percent of the width of the cove in places.
Clearwater's development review process has not yet evaluated the proposed docks; that would happen after the Council approves the submerged land lease and Sandpearl has resolved the open issues of DEP. A site plan and development application would then be submitted to the city's planning department, requiring the approval of the Community Development Board, not the City Council.
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