Board Approves Sandpearl Docks
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - It's been a long time coming, but the Sandpearl resort is one step closer to having a marina as an amenity for its future residents and guests. During their July 17th meeting, Clearwater's Community Development Board approved plans for a 42-slip marina adjacent to the Clearwater Beach Recreation Center.
The marina was originally planned with 54 boat slips, 21 reserved for day use by the public and the remaining 33 to be subleased by the Sandpearl resort to its residents and guests. The facility would be built over city-owned submerged land with access provided via city-owned upland. Sandpearl would lease the submerged land from the city, and construct the docks entirely at its own expense.
Attorney Ed Armstrong, representing the Sandpearl developer JMC Properties, explained to the CDB, "There was a fair amount of concern expressed by neighbors" to the original proposal. "The developer came back and voluntarily reduced the number of slips from the 54 that had been conceptually approved by the City Council down to the 42 slips that are before you today," Armstrong said.
But it wasn't only residents of the nearby Bel Harbor condominiums who had objected to the 54-slip design. The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFMD), from whom a permit would be required for construction, also had concerns. In a letter dated December 7, 2006, SWFMD asked for a reduction in the number of slips and redesign to limit the marina's size to 25-percent of the waterway's width.
The 42-slip design appeased both SWFMD and residents of Bel Harbor, whose own docks lie on the south side of the basin where the Sandpearl docks would be constructed. Although the design still extends beyond 25-percent into the waterway, most of it is contained within 30-percent, with only one finger reaching about 40-percent into the basin.
The downsized marina would preserve the 1/3-public 2/3-private ratio of slips; 27 would be reserved for Sandpearl residents and guests, and 15 would be for day use by the public between the hours of 5AM and midnight.
Ken Robulak, a resident of Bel Harbor, opposed Sandpearl's original dock design, but spoke in favor of it at last week's CDB hearing. "The developer met with the residents of Bel Harbor, heard our concerns, and has made some fairly significant adjustments based on those concerns," Robulak said. He was pleased that the public slips were relocated to the easternmost finger, reducing the potential waterway congestion in the vicinity of Bel Harbor's slips.
Beach activist Anne Garris voiced several objections to the docks. Citing a section of the city's development code that protects rare biological habitats from being adversely impacted by docks, she said, "This piece of property is the last area on Clearwater Beach on the bay side that is natural…I do not think they fit this criteria."
Garris also cited the City Charter, claiming, "that there shall be no new lease of Recreation Open Space land without a referendum", and suggested that Clearwater's citizens should be asked to approve the proposed lease.
The city's failure to offer the submerged lands for lease via competitive bid also came under fire by Garris. "We have no way of knowing that $5,000 a year for property that they will sublease for heaven-knows-what is inadequate, and there's a very large possibility that another entity would have made a better deal for the people of Clearwater," Garris said.
Garris also took issue with approving the docks without requiring the developer to provide additional parking. Referring to a provision of the proposed development agreement that prohibits boat owners from parking in the nearby city parking lot, Garris said, "They are dealing in fantasy when they say that people who live nearby and their guests are not going to park in the area."
"From my viewpoint, this is not a good thing for the City of Clearwater. Boat slips are fine, but there are other ways to utilize the waterfront, and this unique area needs to be utilized by all the people, not a handful of boat owners," Garris concluded.
City staff dismissed Garris'concerns. Planner Wayne Wells said that parking would be satisfied on the Sandpearl site with a shuttle service to the docks. He also claimed that Clearwater Harbormaster Bill Morris found no navigation issues with the docks extending more than 25-percent into the waterway.
Assistant City Attorney Leslie Dougal-Sides refuted Garris' call for a referendum, telling the CDB that they were being asked only to approve a flexible development application, and that any legal issues would be handled separately.
The Sandpearl dock application was approved over only one boardmember objection. Frank Dame asked that the height of any boatlift installed at the marina be limited to a range of three to four feet above dock level, but he received no support from his colleagues. The CDB approved the application by a vote of 4-1.
The CDB was also asked for their recommendation regarding the proposed development agreement for the docks. Dame asked that the agreement be clarified with a definition of a "low-profile" lift, and the rest of the board agreed.
But CDB Chairman Nick Fritsch objected to a provision that allowed the private slips to be rented to individuals who are not residents or guests of the Sandpearl; "This sets kind of a landmark precedent," Fritsch said. The board overruled his objection, recommending approval of the agreement by a vote of 4-1.
The final approval needed for the Sandpearl docks will be sought on September 6th, when the City Council will be asked to give their ok to the amended development agreement.
Return to Home Page
Return to Current Edition