Preservation Land Reclassified Despite Local Opposition
By Josh Valone
The Clearwater City Council reconvened Thursday night to discuss and vote on several local issues, including a difficult decision on whether or not to cede a portion of preservation land to a local college.
The most controversial order of business was whether to approve a land use reclassification to Clearwater Christian College for roughly 7.8 acres of land on the edge of its campus. The classification change would shift the description of that land from "preservation", which would prevent construction, to "institutional", which would allow the college to build a new parking area, as well as athletic fields, at an undisclosed point in the future.
The major point of contention surrounding the proposal revolved around possible negative consequences to the local ecosystem. The 7.8 acres in question include wetland areas around Cooper's Point, and many local residents viewed future construction as a possible threat to wildlife residing in the area. The most notable of which, and the most discussed during the meeting, is a local eagle population, which has established a nesting ground just outside of the area where classification change was requested.
The topic inspired a passionate response from local residents and those sympathetic to the conservation movement. Given the fact that 80% of North America's pre-colonial wetlands have been destroyed by human development, including the recent addition of areas polluted by the BP oil spill, it was argued that the proposal should be rejected outright because of a responsibility to preserve what little remains of this fragile ecosystem.
Clearwater Christian College argued that, if given approval, this negative consequence would be offset by a mitigation plan they claimed would benefit the preservation area that remained. The mitigation plan, which would flush stagnant water out of Cooper's Point, would supposedly create a "quality over quantity" scenario resulting in an "improvement" to the area.
Dissenting residents responded that the area was actually quite vibrant at present, some even presented amateur photos from earlier that morning to prove it, and the theoretical effects of mitigation did not outweigh the negatives of destroying even a small portion of remaining wetlands. Some citizens did declare support for the college's plan, but the majority opinion of the large audience that turned out for Thursday's meeting was overwhelmingly against reclassification.
Several hours of spirited debate, fact checking, presentations, and emotional pleas from local speakers were heard before a vote was finally taken. After considering all of this the city council voted unanimously in favor of granting Clearwater Christian College's request for reclassification to the dismay of most in attendance
Wise decisions are oftentimes unpopular ones, and it remains to be seen whether the worst-case scenarios residents emphatically used to argue against reclassification will ever come to pass. But that provided little solace to those dissenting voices as they filed out of the council chambers.
Having cleared this hurdle the next step for Clearwater Christian College is to begin filing for the necessary permits to begin construction so close to preservation land, which will be a battle in and of itself.
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