CLEARWATER — When city leaders first discussed the proposal to redevelop The Landings Golf Course into a light industrial complex in May, they told residents several more steps were needed before voters would get to decide in November.
The City Council took two of those steps June 18 when they declared the land as surplus and approved a term sheet with the developer, clearing the path for a referendum.
The owners of the course currently lease the property from the city for $1,000 a month. Therefore, residents would have to approve the new 65-year lease with Harrod Properties, which plans to construct a $120 million, 710,000-square-foot multibuilding industrial center on 57.1 acres across the street from the Clearwater Airpark.
After hearing numerous complaints from residents of St. Andrews Cove II condominium complex that directly abuts the southwest corner of the golf course, Harrod agreed to construct an 8-acre park that will act as a buffer between its project and the complex.
And, while some of the design plans have been altered since that May meeting, many of the arguments for and against the project remained the same.
Council member Kathleen Beckman, who was the only one to vote against the actions June 18, shared neighbors’ environmental and compatibility concerns, but also said residents haven’t been given enough time to make an informed decision.
“One thing I am concerned about is really the time limit to get people informed fully about every aspect of this major, major decision,” said Beckman, who added that gathering residents during the pandemic would be difficult. “Because once these 77 acres are gone and they’re not green anymore, they’re gone. There’s not going to be a reversal of this green space.”
Mayor Frank Hibbard said the project does eliminate some green space, but it would also help pay for green space elsewhere and provide many other benefits to citizens.
“A project like this that generates revenue for the city also allows us to pay for libraries, to pay for rec centers, to pay for green open space and parks, to pay for recreational sports, to allow money that goes to our school system to better educate our kids so they may have a brighter future,” he said.
He pointed out that Harrod was adding an 8-acre park to the site and that the south portion of the golf course would remain an aqua driving range.
In response to people who have said the golf course should just become a park, he cited the size of the city’s Parks and Recreation budget: $32 million.
“Parks are not free,” he said. “Crest Lake Park when it’s redone will be $322,000 a year to maintain.”
He added the project would help take that burden off taxpayers, citing a city report that estimated the center would generate $9.735 million for the city during its first 10 years and also create 3,281 jobs with an average salary of about $47,000.
Hibbard, who was joined by council members Hoyt Hamilton and David Allbritton in supporting the project, said those medical and technological manufacturing jobs are sorely needed in order to diversify the city’s economy and workforce, which leans heavily toward hospitality jobs.
“In our strategic vision for the city … we say that we want our city to be socially and economically diverse. Right now we are not,” he said.
For some nearby residents, the financial benefits don’t outweigh the potential negative effects on the surrounding area.
“As a citizen of the city of Clearwater, I understand the value of that property to the entire city,” Scott Anderson said. “But as a (citizen) of the Marymount subdivision, which is directly south of it, I see a direct impact on my quality of life and the quality of life of my neighbors.”
He joined other neighbors in expressing concerns about safety and traffic congestion that could be created by adding thousands of workers to the area.
Not all residents oppose the project, however. Some agreed with Hibbard that the high-paying jobs in new fields are essential for the future of Clearwater.
“This is just the beginning. This is a long way away from developing it,” Mike Riordan said. “But if we blow off this company and this organization, word will get out that we are not open to alternatives other than maybe tourism. And we have enough tourism.”
Beckman said she, too, valued the jobs the project would create, but said numbers don’t tell the whole story.
She said society is good about quantifying the economics but bad at measuring the intangibles.
“I think what we are immature at right now is quantifying quality of life, and I don’t think there’s a line item on those kinds of sheets for that,” she said. “And whether that’s air or water or traffic congestion or whatever, it’s not there. It’s hard to measure, but it certainly is a value to our residents.”
City Attorney Pam Akin said several steps remain in the next few months, including a land-use change from open space/recreation to industrial limited that will need city, county and state review.
The council on July 16 also will need to approve the language for the 75-word referendum question, which was also discussed at the June 18 meeting.
“We have between now and November to put out as much information as we can put out, and you (the voters) are going to have between now and November to gather as much information as you can gather,” Hamilton said.