CLEARWATER – With the economy improving and tourists flocking to Pinellas County beaches in record numbers, the need for more parking spaces on Clearwater Beach is more urgent than ever.
On June 5, the Clearwater City Council took a controversial step to alleviate that chronic shortage. It approved the construction of a 642-space parking garage between Mandalay and Poinsettia avenues, behind Pelican Walk Plaza in the northern section of Clearwater Beach.
“We’ve been discussing a parking garage on this site for years,” Mayor George Cretekos said at the June 5 meeting. And Beach by Design, the city’s master redevelopment plan for Clearwater Beach, recommended one as far back as the late 1990s.
Paradise Group LLC, a Safety Harbor-based developer, has an option to buy the property and wants to build a 642-space parking garage on it. The city of Clearwater has proposed buying at least 450 of the spaces for public parking.
The plan met early opposition from nearby residents who feared that the 75-foot-high building would block their view of the water. But that argument lost traction when, at the council’s June 2 work session, City Attorney Pam Akin said that nobody has “a right” to a view across another person’s property.
Mayor Cretekos added that it was hypocritical of those people to complain about losing their view when many of them live in high–rise condos that were built despite neighbors’ claims that the structures would block their view. He said that they are lucky that a 150-foot structure, the highest allowed by Beach by Design, isn’t being built there.
Vickie Gagliano, a consultant hired to do a feasibility study of the project, told the council that she saw no major problems, and the garage should be a money-maker from day one.
“We think this agreement works for us from a financial standpoint,” Rod Irwin, the assistant city manager for economic development, told the council. But he added that it will be a “complicated redevelopment.”
Seven audience members spoke in favor of the project and four spoke against it. The proponents were mostly business owners from the affected area who said that for years, small businesses have been allowed to open there without having to provide any parking at all, and consequently, there is now a shortage of parking for their employees and customers. Opponents feared that the garage would be used by beachgoers who would cause traffic jams as they stopped to pick up their families and their beach gear on nearby streets.
By a unanimous vote, the council members gave Paradise the go-ahead to complete the purchase of the garage site. The development agreement for the site will need to be approved by the city’s Community Development Board before construction can begin.
“Is this the end-all and be-all” Councilmember Jay Polglaze asked. “No, this is the beginning,” and additional parking will be needed as record numbers of tourists flock to Clearwater Beach, which he described as having one of the least developed shorelines on the Intracoastal Waterway.
“No matter how much parking we have, we will never have enough parking,” Mayor Cretekos agreed, but the new garage will be a step in the right direction.