CLEARWATER - Few good answers have emerged for the issues surrounding the City of Clearwater's plan to spur the redevelopment of the Marina District on Clearwater Beach since the City Council postponed deciding the issue during their January 18th meeting.
The city planned to incent consolidation of the small properties that comprise the area by relaxing height restrictions and offering to vacate East Shore Drive. In return, the city wanted the redeveloped properties to provide a public boardwalk along their bayside waterfront, creating a mixed-use of boardwalk-level retail and restaurants with hotels or residential above.
The Council were updated during their worksession on Monday with a legal opinion on a proposal to extend the building moratorium that expired on January 30th, a discussion of the proposed "slip lane" that would bypass the roundabout from the causeway to Poinsettia Avenue, and a report on a staff meeting with property owners on East Shore Drive.
The Council had asked the City Attorney if the expired moratorium could be extended, prohibiting the development of small condominiums along the waterfront but allowing the preferred mixed-uses. City Attorney Pam Akin advised against extending the moratorium. Councilmember Bill Jonson asked, "We could extend it for six months, but not for the reasons that we have articulated?" Akin responded, "I think that sums it up."
Traffic Operations Manager Paul Bertels presented a "concept" of the proposed bypass lane from the causeway to Poinsettia, intended to allow north beach residents to avoid the roundabout on their way home. The concept had been reviewed by UK roundabout expert Barry Crown, who opined that it would not create a pedestrian safety hazard.
Jonson specifically questioned the pedestrian crosswalk at the bypass lane exit from the causeway. Bertels said, "It's more of just a slip lane, it wouldn't have much of a decell (deceleration) feature to it," implying that vehicle speeds would be fairly high at the crossing.
Jonson asked, "Would that be safe for pedestrians, would pedestrians not be safer if it was a right turn then a left turn?" Bertels answered, "That's a micro-engineering detail, I think."
Councilmember John Doran also pointed out that pedestrians using the underpass at bridge 41 to safely cross the causeway would also be traversing the bypass lane where cars would be traveling at a fairly high speed. Bertels responded, "We would have to reengineer that sidewalk."
But as Barry Crown said when he first evaluated Clearwater's accident-prone roundabout in 2000, "The devil's in the details", and the details of pedestrian safety at the proposed bypass lane crossings do not appear to be worked out.
Planning Director Michael Delk described the results of a two-hour meeting his staff held last Friday with property owners in the area. "There appears to be some potential building out there now, particularly on the south block for assembly under single ownership," he said.
In a later interview with the Gazette, Assistant Planning Director Gina Clayton went into a bit more detail about the property owners meeting. "A consensus supported the vacation of East Shore," she said, "The best outcome was all at once, but some thought it could be done a block at a time."
There was also talk of building the sought-after boardwalk without vacating East Shore. "Some thought there was not enough land to build the boardwalk and redevelop without vacation, and some thought it could be done if front setback requirements were relaxed," Clayton said.
Three of Clearwater's current Council members were in decision-making roles when Beach by Design was amended in 2001, excusing David Mack from a requirement that a bayside waterfront boardwalk be built at what is now the Belle Harbor condominium complex.
Bill Jonson, then a City Commissioner, said that he voted in favor of eliminating the boardwalk requirement because Mack's project was residential-only, and had no mixed uses.
Mayor Frank Hibbard, then a member of the Community Development Board (CDB), voted to recommend approval of the amendment; he said, "In retrospect, I'd say that was a mistake. If I were voting on it today, I would not allow the boardwalk to be deleted from the project."
Vice Mayor Carlen Petersen also sat on the CDB in 2001, and also voted in favor of eliminating the boardwalk requirement. She said that she could not recall the details of a decision she made five years ago, but added, "I supported the staff position presented at that CDB meeting." Gina Clayton, then the city's Long Range Planning Manager, was the presenter of the staff position at that meeting.
The City Council was scheduled to hold a hearing on the proposed amendment to Beach by Design last night. The outcome of that hearing was not known in time for inclusion in this story.
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