Hotel or Warehouse
By Anne McKay Garris
A proposed plan to build a 108-unit hotel at the entrance to Coronado Drive on South Clearwater Beach was before Clearwater City Council for the second time last week. It had been postponed until two issues were cleared up. The first was a requirement, voiced by Councilmember Paul Gibson, that the adjacent sidewalk should be at least 7 feet wide.
The other requirement was that the ownership of the adjacent bottom lands should be clarified and determination made whether the deck built over the bottom lands was legal, or not. The question was raised of whether the City of Clearwater, as owners of the land, should be collecting rental fees for its use.
Although these two issues were quickly settled, an extended public hearing was held, last week. Clearly disgusted with the proceedings, State Representative Ed Hooper, speaking as the applicant's agent, informed the City Council that they should "learn about hotel reality from this developer."
Immediately, Steve Fowler, Clearwater's premier architect, stood up to speak on the folly of putting "10 pounds of rocks into a 5 pound bag." He pointed out that the increase in density was 3 fold, from 39 units to 108 on a lot that is only .72 acres.
"The set backs alone are a disaster waiting to happen," he said, referring to all of the reduced setbacks, especially the one which is 2-1/2 feet from the property line, separating the proposed 89 foot high building from an adjacent 2 story hotel. Fowler suggested that the small space between buildings is a disaster waiting to happen.
He closed with the comment that this project will be putting "a warehouse at the front door of Beach Walk."
Other citizens rose to express objections to the project. One remarked that providing more sensible setbacks would not make all that great a difference in the site plan. "It would not be all that difficult to do," he said, "and it would make the building more compatible with the surrounding area."
When the public hearing came to a close, the applicant's agent was invited to give a rebuttal. With an audible sigh, State Representative Ed Hooper approached the microphone, saying, "I had hoped there would be no need for rebuttal. This hearing is not about the site plan. It is about the density. I have already explained that our code no longer has setbacks. We have "flexible development."
Taking their cue from Hooper, the Council Members proceeded to lecture the citizens in the audience.
Councilmember Carlen Petersen talked about all the planning and meetings that went into creating Beach By Design. "If you didn't like this, you should have spoken sooner before we went through the planning process," she said, and proceeded to inform the audience that this code was what "we" wanted and what "the city" wanted, adding, "It's certainly better than what you have on Clearwater Beach now."
Councilmember John Doran asked staff questions that pointed up the fact that this building, with very small setbacks, had 40% open space -- much more than the previous buildings on the property. What he eventually explained he meant was that the lot, across the street from the building, will be used as a parking lot for the project. And that is considered open space.
"We decided we wanted to incint (provide incentives for) some hotel buildings instead of the condos which were rapidly taking over," said Mayor Frank Hibbard. "To me, we need more hotel rooms."
Vice Mayor Paul Gibson, remembering the Mayor's comment that he would rather have tall, thin buildings, than short, squat buildings, suggested that this proposed hotel building would actually be tall -- and squat.
He agreed that he would vote in favor of the current project since they had arranged to provide the 7-foot wide sidewalks he had requested. "But I hope to never vote on another like it," he said, and called for the Council to take another look at the rules for Beach By Design if this was the kind of building it produced.
"We need our code to be in the best interest of the community," he said, "not in the best interest of the developers."
No support for his proposal was expressed by any of the other Council Members.
The proposed project will include 72 bonus units from a total of 1,385 units decided upon by the Council to use to "incint" hotel buildings, leaving 1,313 units to be fit into future buildings on Clearwater Beach.
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