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Flurry of development calls for review of rules

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A Times Editorial Published March 20, 2005 CLEARWATER BEACH – Many Clearwater Beach residents and visitors have watched with concern as redevelopment washes over the island and, in their eyes, threatens to sweep away everything familiar. Clearwater Beach was static for so long that some are shocked by the amount of new construction under way or planned there. Three massive, high-end resorts have won city approval and are in the planning stages, several high-rise condominiums have been built already and more are proposed, and on side streets once lined with old motels, new low-rise condominiums are multiplying. While the beach, one of Pinellas County’s most important tourist attractors, needed a big boost and many locals are grateful for the redevelopment boom, some of what is being built on Clearwater Beach doesn’t look like a gift. As often happens in a market this hot, investors are riding the crest of the wave, swarming in to buy property and build on it as fast as possible before the market cools. Clearwater City Council members have looked around and they don’t like some of what they see. The subject came up again in council meetings last week. Council member Bill Jonson pointed out that the side setbacks on one project were so narrow that a firetruck would not be able to get to the back of the building. “I don’t know how you could drive more than a bag of golf clubs through there,” he said. Several officials said they think some of the smaller condominium projects being constructed on the beach are unattractive or don’t look like quality products. Council members have been uncertain about whether to start putting on the brakes, and if so, how hard. They have declined to approve a moratorium on condo construction in one section of the beach, but they are talking about reviewing Beach By Design, the city’s formal guide to beach redevelopment, and other city land development standards to make changes, the need for which is now made apparent by practical experience. The public soon will get an easy opportunity to weigh in. The city staff already is gathering information for possible changes to the part of Beach By Design that governs the so-called Old Florida District, which stretches along both sides of Mandalay Avenue from the Rockaway parking lot to Acacia Street. In this area, which has small motels, apartments and single-family homes, Beach By Design said single-family home and townhouse construction was “preferred.” However, developers argued the city’s overall land development code allows condominiums there. Condos as tall as seven stories are being built or planned. Property owners and the public will be able to tell city officials what they want in the Old Florida District at any of four meetings: April 6, April 20, May 11 or June 8, all at 7 p.m. in the Clearwater Beach Recreation Center. Once public input is gathered and the staff writes up proposed changes, the Community Development Board, City Council, Pinellas Planning Council and County Commission will have to approve them. It likely will be the end of the year before any changes can be made. Meanwhile, the building continues. With so much property being redeveloped, City Council members would be wise to work on several fronts at once. Now that redevelopment really has arrived on Clearwater Beach and in downtown as well, all kinds of rules and standards may need to be customized to fit that new reality. Still unaddressed is the extremely important issue of how the city will ensure diversity of tourist properties on Clearwater Beach. The city has proven its talent at creating incentives that will attract development. When Beach By Design was created, so was a bonus density pool designed to lure high-end resort developers to the beach. Bingo, three high-end resorts. But what will the city do to attract the midprice motels essential to serving middle-income families on vacation? Land prices on the island have reached such astronomical levels that it will be extremely difficult for developers of midprice motels to make a deal on the beach. The city needs a creative package of incentives to attract new midprice motel development. Source: http://www.sptimes.com/2005/03/20/Northpinellas/Flurry_of_development.shtml
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