Clearwater City Council Annexes Land, Maintains Status Quo on Alcohol Sales
By Josh Valone
The Clearwater City Council met Thursday night for their second meeting of the month, contending with a vocal crowd on two subjects that brought forth more than the average amount of public discussion.
The first dustup was over a "voluntary" annexation of 37 homes situated between Sunset Point Rd. and Highway 590. The voluntary nature of the annexation was called into question by residents opposing the decision, stating they were unaware that the City of Clearwater had the ability to annex them without their personal consent. Several went so far as to claim that the tax increase that would come with city residency might even force them out of their homes.
The city argued that a contractual agreement had been made 26 years earlier with former property owners, giving them the ability to annex the land at some point in the future. It had been determined that time should be August 18th. Current property owners were told they could find the terms in the fine print of either the title to their property or their lease. The contractual nature of this agreement allowed the city to categorize the annexation as voluntary, regardless of the opinion of current property owners.
Following the resident's spirited objections, and the city's rebuttal, the ordinance for annexation passed unanimously. The crowd vocally objected as they filed out of the council chambers, but this was just the first of two contentious debates council members would be part of that evening.
The second was a proposed amendment to the Code of Ordinances, which would set the cutoff for sale of alcoholic beverages at 2:00 a.m. This had been the standard for all of Pinellas County until just a few weeks ago, when County Commissioners voted to extend the sale of alcohol to 3:00 a.m.
Council members initially appeared vehemently opposed to keeping the 3:00 a.m. limit, citing public safety concerns and a nebulous "nothing good happens at that time of night" reasoning that didn't seem to require any actual facts. Their opinions were slowly turned though, when a stream of local business owners came to the podium to argue in favor of allowing them to keep their extra hour of business.
The business community painted a picture of struggling bars and restaurants that had suddenly been given an extra hour to rake in much-needed revenue in a struggling economy. Not only would the city be depriving them of their newfound income if sale hours were rolled back, but it would also put Clearwater businesses at a severe disadvantage against bars based in nearby cities that would continue operating until 3:00 a.m. A hypothetical increase in traffic accidents and crime was also not evident based on the, admittedly limited, three week period in which the city had allowed alcohol sales to continue an additional hour.
In the face of strong public support for the extension to 3:00 a.m. Pinellas County had set a month earlier, and a lack of solid evidence to suggest negative repercussions in traffic or criminal activity, the council's opinion shifted dramatically in just one hour. In the end council members unanimously decided not to go through with the proposed amendment, although they did mention that if traffic accidents or crime spiked in the next year the matter could potentially be revisited.
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