County Commission Approves College Expansion
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - Approvals for the Clearwater Christian College (CCC) expansion plan continue to pile up. On Tuesday the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners approved the land use changes requested by the college that would create the land area needed to construct additional parking and a chapel/fine arts building.
Approximately 4.5 acres of jurisdictional wetlands would be rezoned from Preservation (P) to Institutional (I) to accommodate the college's planned expansion.
Eight opponents of the proposed wetland destruction lined-up at the podium in an effort to convince the Commission to defeat the land use change that would facilitate the destruction of wetlands on the college-owned property at Cooper's Point.
"If I called you on the phone today and said, 'Commissioner Latvala I am at Coopers Point and oil just washed into 4.5 acres of wetlands and they have been destroyed,' I think your reaction would be pretty strong against the destruction of those wetlands," said Barbara Walker, "It should be the same when it comes to these other manmade destructions that we are making."
"They're just out of space," Walker said, "and the only way that they can get more space is to destroy our natural resources."
Katie Cole, CCC's attorney, argued that the land use plan changes would be a "huge benefit" because of a planned mitigation bank that the college would later transfer to a private conservation organization.
The Pinellas County Commission approved CCC's application by a vote of 4-2, Commissioners Susan Latvala and Karen Seel opposed.
The next steps in CCC's application process will be hearings on October 19th by Clearwater's Community Development Board on the Development Agreement and Land Use change application, both of which had been revised by the Pinellas Planning Council to reduce the amount of wetland destruction.
On October 21st the Clearwater City Council will hear the revised Development Agreement and Land Use application. Assuming they are passed, CCC will have received all of the local government approvals necessary for them to proceed with applying for environmental permits from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFMD) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
CCC's SWFMD application is expected to receive a lot of scrutiny.
In 1996, CCC received a permit from SWFMD that allowed the destruction of .22 acres of salt marsh for the purpose of building an additional dormitory building and parking spaces. The permit required that 28.98 acres of salt marsh and tidal swamp be placed into a conservation easement recorded to SWFMD.
Included in those 28.98 acres are the 4.5 acres of wetland that the college is now seeking to destroy.
SWFMD spokesperson Robyn Felix said this week, "The conservation easement was recorded but the information does not match with what is required by the Environmental Resource Permit. SWFMD is currently investigating it as a compliance issue."
Felix said that SWFMD will wait for the new permit application before taking any action on CCC's apparent non-compliance with the 1996 permit.
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