CLEARWATER – The narrow question facing the Clearwater City Council at its March 20 meeting will be whether the property at 900 North Osceola Ave. would be better used to house people or boats. The broader question is whether the Old Bay Character District should be strictly residential or allow some commercial uses.
In 2004, the city adopted a Clearwater Downtown Redevelopment Plan that created six “character districts” and specified the goals and limitations of those districts.
“Three of the most important principles that guided the development of the plan centered on the need to focus on downtown’s unique waterfront location, the need to attract new residents through the construction of new housing and the need to eliminate blighting conditions such as industrial uses, lack of infrastructure and dilapidated properties,” a staff memo to the council explains.
The parcel in question once housed the Clearwater Bay Marina, which had covered and open boat slips, high and dry boat storage, boat repair facilities and several single-story buildings. In January 2005, a 133-unit condominium development called Antigua Bay was approved for the property and the high and dry facilities were demolished. Pilings for the condo complex were started, but work stopped when the Great Recession struck.
In 2009, the city’s Community Development Board allowed the marina’s owner, who was not identified at the council’s March 17 work session, to partially reopen the facility to earn some income from the property. But the CDB specified that the marina could not be commercial in nature or have fuel pumps, boat launching or dry storage of boats.
“The property owner is now requesting that the city council abandon its vision for the district and allow the re-establishment of an industrial-like use that was previously eliminated consistent with the (redevelopment) plan’s strategic objectives,” the staff memo said.
At the city council’s March 17 work session, Gina Clayton of the city’s planning and development department urged the council to turn thumbs-down on that request. Instead, she urged them to stick with the plan to build housing there.
“It is clear that the market is now gaining strength,” she told the council, but it was a hard sell.
“I don’t think it’s realistic,” Vice Mayor Paul Gibson said of changing the plan or at least granting an exemption from it in this case. “This (site) is a long way from downtown,” so high-end condos are unlikely to succeed there.
Instead, he added, condo construction is more likely to start in the downtown core and spread outward from there, and that could take years. Therefore, he favored granting the marina owner’s request.
“I think that a marina in that area is exactly the right thing to do (because it) would be a great motivator” for attracting people downtown, Councilmember Jay Polglaze said.
But the staff memo made it clear that the planning and development department disagrees.
“The planning and development department believes the current vision for the Old Bay Character District remains valid and should not be changed to reestablish a working waterfront use in an area targeted for new waterfront residential development,” the memo said.
Newly re-elected Councilmember Bill Jonson said that he is waiting to hear the owner’s argument on March 20 before making up his mind on how to vote.
“This is a unique property,” Jonson said. “I’m not inclined to go one way or the other. It’s a puzzle now.”