Agencies Weigh-in on College Expansion Plan
Council to Hear Compromise Proposal on October 5th
By Carl Wagenfohr
Comments from an acronym-soup of agencies that reviewed the land use changes requested by Clearwater Christian College (CCC) have begun to trickle in.
Florida's DCA (Department of Community Affairs) and DOT (Department of Transportation) have both responded without comments or objections.
Florida's DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) responded, "While we are concerned regarding the proposed development adjacent to the aquatic preserve and OFW [Outstanding Florida Waters], our concerns do not rise to an objection." DEP further recommended several strategies to protect groundwater and surface water in the area.
FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) expressed no issues or concerns. "They (FWC biologists) are in agreement with the preservation piece and the City's recognition of the need to adhere to the state's bald eagle conservation plan and the rules of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission," they commented.
The staff of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council (TBRPC), however, issued a report that found the proposed changes in conflict with regional policy.
CCC, whose campus is surrounded by wetland in the Cooper's Point area at the west end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway, was seeking a land use change from "Preservation" to "Institutional" on 7.2 acres of wetland. They planned to use the additional land to develop a regulation-size soccer field, expanded parking, 150 additional dormitory rooms and a chapel.
The Clearwater City Council approved the Land Use change on August 5th despite the planned wetland destruction, and with knowledge that the planned soccer field would encroach within 330 feet of an active bald eagle's nest.
The Pinellas Planning Council (PPC) voted to deny the land use change during their September 15th meeting, and instead offered an "Alternative Compromise Recommendation" that limited the amount of wetland destruction and eliminated the encroachment on the bald eagle's nest.
Meanwhile, the staff of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council had begun their independent evaluation of the proposed land use changes, and issued their report on September 16th without knowledge of the PPC's compromise recommendation.
The TBRPC report was not favorable, calling the proposed land use change "inconsistent with the Strategic Regional Policy Plan."
The report further stated that the proposed amendment is not compatible with the surrounding land use:
"Portions of the proposed Master Plan Area which have been proposed for development are wetlands, specifically mangrove, saltmarsh and saltern habitat designated Natural Resources of Regional Significance in the Future of The Region - A Strategic Regional Policy Plan for the Tampa Bay Region."The TBRPC staff report also questioned the planned increase in dormitory space on the campus:
"TBRPC staff has concerns regarding the increase of population within the Coastal High Hazard Area (CHHA) as a result of up to 150 additional dormitory beds that would further increase evacuation clearance times and lower the number of shelter spaces. The City's report does not address these potential impacts."The comments of the Agency on Bay Management (ABM) were incorporated into TBRPC's staff report. The ABM were additionally concerned that the college had no plans to mitigate wetland impacts on-site should its proposed Mitigation Bank not get permitted, and saw a potential for future campus expansion "on a site without enough buildable land to accommodate the currently-proposed expansion."
The next step in the approval process for CCC's expansion plan will be a hearing on Tuesday October 5th at 6pm by the Clearwater City Council on the "Alternative Compromise Recommendation" suggested by the PPC. Having already approved the original request that had greater environmental impact, the City Council is expected to approve PPC's compromise recommendation.
Assuming Clearwater's approval, the revised plan will be sent to the TBRPC, and a hearing by the Pinellas County Commission, sitting as the Countywide Planning Authority (CPA), will follow. The next CPA meeting is scheduled for October 12th, while the TBRPC meets on October 11th.
Return to Current Edition