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Proposal provides chance to enforce beach’s standards

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By Times Staff Writer Published November 16, 2004 Clearwater Beach is being redeveloped at a faster pace than perhaps even the most determined optimist would have imagined 10 years ago. New buildings are sprouting, investors are prowling the beach looking for opportunities, the city’s Planning Department is busy reviewing applications for new projects, and the agenda of the Clearwater Community Development Board, which approves development plans, gets longer with every meeting. Since city officials worked hard to create an environment on the beach that would spur interest among developers, there is a fair amount of relief and back-slapping in City Hall these days. But will city officials be able to take pride in the result? When a property gets redeveloped, everyone hopes the new construction will look better than what it replaced. However, another goal of redevelopment is to correct development patterns that existed at the time of original construction that have, in hindsight, proven problematic. For example, in many older neighborhoods in urban areas, houses were built on small lots and close together, without required setbacks. Such construction presents a host of modern-day problems, including lack of open space, conflicts between property owners, difficulty in servicing or replacing utilities and, eventually, problems in redeveloping the area. These days, land development codes adopted by local governments not only have minimum lot size and setback provisions, but also address height, open space, landscaping, utility easements and view corridors, to name a few. The goal is to develop more livable communities. Clearwater needs to keep that goal in mind as Clearwater Beach is redeveloped. Officials can create problems for generations of city residents if they, in their eagerness, make poor decisions today. One case on the agenda at today’s Community Development Board meeting provides a perfect example. Aqua Sun Development LLC is contracting to purchase land along the Gulf of Mexico on the north end of the island between the Rockaway parking lot and Acacia Street, which is generally regarded as the start of the single-family residential portion of the island. That area is called the Old Florida District in “Beach by Design,” the city’s redevelopment plan for Clearwater Beach. Today the Old Florida District has a mix of tiny motels, single-family homes, a few small condominium buildings and a handful of retail shops. Most of the buildings in the area are one or two stories tall. “Beach by Design” states that in the future, the Old Florida District should continue to be a low- to mid-rise neighborhood, developed primarily with new or renovated single-family homes and townhomes. Aqua Sun Development has contracted to buy two very small motels and a single-family home on Avalon and Kendall streets, both streets that dead end at the gulf. Aqua Sun wants to tear down the old structures and replace them with a 13-unit condominium building. That doesn’t sound too unusual until you examine the details. The building would be 69.5 feet tall above base flood level – closer to 75 feet tall from ground level. It would literally tower over nearby one-story homes. It would be perched on a piece of land that is a mere .299 acres – less land than is required for the construction of one single-family home in the city’s low-density residential districts. To get so many units on such a small piece of land, Aqua Sun is asking for zero setbacks, for a height variance and for the right to build into the normal traffic visibility triangles. Because motorists coming out of the ground floor parking garage and approaching on nearby streets would be hampered in their ability to see around the building, Aqua Sun actually proposes to put mirrors on the building and paint warnings on the street surface. To provide a needed landscape buffer on one side of the building, Aqua Sun would hang vines from planter boxes attached to the wall! The Old Florida District never was envisioned as a neighborhood of seven-story condominium towers built virtually lot line to lot line, with little open space, landscaping or attention to view corridor. Is this the kind of “redevelopment” future generations will enjoy seeing in that section of Clearwater Beach, or will it be recognized as a mistake that must be corrected in a future wave of beach redevelopment? The city planning staff fortunately recognized the deficiencies in Aqua Sun’s proposal and has recommended denial. The Community Development Board hopefully will follow their lead. Source:
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