"Reverter Clause" Debate Continues Tonight
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - What a difference a year makes.
At the November 18, 2008, Council meeting, City Clerk Cyndie Goudeau introduced an agenda item entitled "Approve the 2009 State Legislative Package". Included in that package, but unmentioned by Goudeau during the meeting, was a local bill that would have relaxed a reverter clause, in place since 1925, which limited uses on the city-owned Municipal Marina property.
The only discussion of the proposed local bill at that meeting was by Councilmember John Doran, who corrected an incomplete sentence and incorrect page numbering. The Council approved that 2009 Legislative package unanimously and without meaningful discussion of the proposed amendment to the reverter clause.
Clearwater's effort last year failed largely because State Representative Jim Frishe, whose district includes the Marina property, delayed his sponsorship of the bill until the 2010 legislative session, giving himself sufficient time to evaluate it and the public an opportunity to comment on it.
Fast forward to 2009. It was Frishe, not the Clearwater City Council, who last week held the first meeting to hear public comment on relaxing the reverter clause. As reported in the October 29th edition of the Gazette, he got an earful. A common theme among the local bill's opponents was distrust of the city, a sentiment that was heightened by the city's stealth 2008 effort.
Hearing citizen concerns, Frishe negotiated with Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard for the addition of a clause requiring a public referendum for any sale of the property. That clause is present in the version of the local bill that is scheduled to be voted on by the City Council tonight.
Frishe said that he would also add language to the proposed local bill that would "tighten-up" the uses that would invoke the reverter clause. That work is ongoing according to Frishe's legislative assistant, Sue Berfield.
The City Council addressed the local bill at Monday's worksession, discussion turning to potential long term leases of the property and whether a referendum would be required for its redevelopment.
Vice Mayor Paul Gibson seemed to have the clearest understanding of citizen unease; "They're concerned about the development of the property using a ground lease. They don't want an alternative to a sale that puts us in the same place, which is development of the property without a referendum," he said.
"There's a segment that doesn't want anything done. There's a segment that doesn't want a referendum because their view may not be supported by the other citizens," said Gibson of the several factions involved in the debate; "I think the group that has the fair argument is the group that says, 'If you develop the parcel with a private party, we want a say in what's approved.'"
In an attempt to allay citizen fears that a hotel could be built on the site without a referendum, City Attorney Pam Akin explained that the parcel is now zoned Institutional, while a hotel would require Tourist zoning. The zoning change would require a referendum, she said.
Planning Director Michael Delk commented on what could be allowed within the Marina property's current Institutional zoning, but provided no certainty; "I think we have to make some judgments about the nature and extent of what the changes are, so I think we'd have to look at each situation," he said.
Gibson responded, "I hear you, but I think where the citizens are coming from is a different way. They're saying, 'We want to know that it's not up to the city to make that call, it's a matter of law that it can't be done.'"
"[Citizens] want the city to own and control the parcel and anything that goes on it. There may be a public debate about what goes on it, but what they don't want to do is wake up one night and find out that a deal has been cut because we had the discretion to do so with some third party developer, and something is going to be built there without a referendum and, perhaps, even without public comment."
Akin tried to ease Gibson's concern, saying that the Marina property would have to be used "consistent with the Working Waterfronts Legislation, which means that you have to have public access to the waterfront."
Gibson responded, "It certainly wouldn't be easy, but it could be done. If you had the right lawyers and the right architects and the right land planners you could find a way to do it. What I heard at the meeting was 'We want to make sure that if there is any change to this land that puts a hotel or something similar, the citizens have the right to vote on it.'"
City Manager Bill Horne later added that the proposed local bill's use of the word "lodging" as an acceptable use caused "great distress" for the President of the Island Estates Civic Association (Dave Muzio). "The reason that language is used is because that's part of Working Waterfronts," Akin explained.
But Florida's Working Waterfronts legislation was intended to preserve existing commercial uses of waterfront property, such as boat repair and lodging, by requiring that they be taxed based on their current use rather than at the inflated land value of a waterfront condominium, among other things. Working Waterfronts was not intended to encourage cities to convert existing municipal marinas into waterfront resort hotels.
The debate on Clearwater's effort to relax the 1925 reverter clause on the Municipal Marina resumes tonight at the Clearwater City Council meeting, with public comment and a vote on the proposed legislation by the Council.
The proposed local bill, complete with any further revisions by the City Council or Rep. Frishe, will be heard by the Pinellas County Legislative delegation next Tuesday, November 10. They will meet from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM at St. Petersburg College's Clearwater campus in the Arts Auditorium located at 2465 Drew Street in Clearwater.
Our opinion poll is now closed. We asked:
What is your opinion of Clearwater's effort to relax the 1925 State of Florida reverter clause that limits redevelopment options for the Municipal Marina property?Our readers responded:
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