CLEARWATER - While Beach by Design has created a habitat for Clearwater's official bird, the construction crane, throughout most of Clearwater Beach, the area known as the Marina Residential District has languished. The lack of redevelopment activity in the area, bounded by Clearwater Harbor, Poinsettia Avenue, Causeway Boulevard and the Belle Harbor Condominium development, was attributed by the city's Planning Department to be the difficulty lot consolidation.
In August 2006, the Planning Department sought City Council approval for a building moratorium in the area so that refinements could be made to redevelopment incentives. Gina Clayton, Clearwater's Assistant Planning Director said at that time that the thrust of the work would be "balancing lower development thresholds while requiring public amenities and benefits," and "ensuring that the public boardwalk can become a reality in our community." The Council passed the moratorium during their July 20th meeting.
Facing the expiration of the moratorium on January 31st 2007, the Planning Department presented the results of their work to Clearwater's Community Development Board (CDB) at their December 19th meeting. This was the last opportunity to win the CDB's blessing before seeking the approval of the City Council at both of their meetings in January 2007.
Calling the changes "a vision that really capitalizes on this great waterfront location and the commercial possibilities that come along with this prime location," Clayton told the CDB that the area would be redeveloped into a pedestrian and boater friendly destination with a variety of uses, including overnight accommodations.
An important component of the district would be a public waterfront boardwalk that would extend from Baymont Street to the roundabout. "This amenity, we think, is very important in making the district become a destination because it would be a draw for tourists and residents alike and really activate the area and bring people to support the commercial and mixed-use developments that are proposed for the area," Clayton said.
In order to promote the area's redevelopment and the construction of the public waterfront boardwalk, the proposed amendment to Beach by Design would provide height incentives ranging up to 100 feet for consolidated parcels of two acres that span East Shore Drive. Lower heights would be permitted for smaller parcels and those not spanning East Shore.
The vacation of East Shore Drive, it seems, is key to the area's redevelopment, providing a larger footprint for the redevelopment of waterfront property and compensating property owners for the right of way required for the sought-after waterfront boardwalk.
But incentives or not, the boardwalk may be as elusive to obtain in the future as it has been in the past. In 2001, David Mack sought, and obtained, an amendment to Beach by Design that excused him from constructing a public waterfront boardwalk at the condominium project he planned in the Marina District at the site of the former Yacht Basin Apartments, now the Belle Harbor Condominiums. Mack was concerned that prospective purchasers of his condos would object to allowing public access between their condo's and their boats.
The vacation of East Shore Drive is an issue to north beach residents, including those residing at Belle Harbor. To them, East Shore has become kind of a back road that bypasses the roundabout when traffic is heavy, allowing eastbound causeway traffic to turn right onto East Shore well before the congested roundabout.
Clayton proposed an alternative, telling the CDB, "We do believe that you could get an access from the causeway directly to Pointsettia before you get into the roundabout so that the traffic wouldn't be stuck going through the roundabout, which we believe is very important for north beach residents."
The lane Clayton spoke of is called a "right-turn bypass lane" in roundabout traffic engineering circles (pardon the pun), and is not well regarded. The Federal Highway Administration publication Roundabouts - An Informational Guide says this about such lanes (Section 6.3.15):
"In general, right-turn bypass lanes (or right-turn slip lanes) should be avoided, especially in urban areas with bicycle and pedestrian activity. The entries and exits of bypass lanes can increase conflicts with bicyclists. The generally higher speeds of bypass lanes and the lower expectation of drivers to stop increases the risk of collisions with pedestrians."Contacted after the CDB meeting, Cky Ready, a Planner for the city, wrote, "The design of realignment of Poinsettia and vacation of East Shore have yet to be engineered." Without a member having traffic engineering expertise, the CDB did not question Clayton's earlier assertion. One board member later said that his favorable vote would have changed if the bypass lane issue had been discussed during the meeting.
The CDB has authority only to recommend approval to the City Council, and does not have final decision making on this proposed amendment to Beach by Design. By a vote of 4-3, the board recommended approval.
The Clearwater City Council will vote on the proposed amendments for the Marina District during both of their meetings in January, 2007: Thursday January 18th and Wednesday January 31st.
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