Balance of Success
About 15 years ago the city wrote policy designed to lure hotels and luxury resorts to the beach that was heavy with aging buildings and in need of an economic boost.
Clearwater is approaching a significant milestone in the beach’s history as a hotel density reserve created in 2008 has nearly run dry.
With intense redevelopment now accomplished, the next step should be better ways to handle the parking and traffic congestion that has followed, according to planning and development director Michael Delk.
“We’re at a point where we have to look at our transportation options,” Delk said.
Beach by Design required new hotels to provide parking for guests, but the city still struggles with accommodating the thousands of day-trippers who drive to the beach.
One parking solution in the works for nearly 15 years is the seven-story garage that broke ground last month on the north end’s Poinsettia Avenue. The structure is three stories higher than originally planned and will sit directly across from Day’s East Shore Resort, looming over bungalow homes and single-story structures.
William Selvidge, who retired to Clearwater Beach in 2010, sees the high rises and luxury resorts as benefits because development put everything within reach and created a walkable community.
For his move to Florida, Selvidge bought a convertible that has only 7,500 miles on it five years later. His only concern is congestion from what seems like a new development every day.
Buildings near the residential area are also getting bigger. Last month, the Community Development Board approved a complex of 22 three-bedroom units on a half-acre Avalon Street lot that was originally called Avalon Condos.
Beach By Design restricts condominiums in the district to 65 feet tall, but developers pitched the Avalon project instead as “resort attached dwellings,” a title that allows them to be used as residences or hotel rooms.
Promising the CDB they would reserve at least one unit at all times for a short-term rental, developers were granted the maximum height given to hotels of 75 feet.
Another north end project recently approved by the CDB is Somerset Vacation Townhomes, which will include 20 hotel rooms and a rooftop bar.
Charles Siemon, hired by the city from 1999 to 2001 to write Beach by Design, said redevelopment has been a balancing act of luring investment while maintaining quality of life for day trippers and residents.
But now that luxury hotels, restaurants, shopping and condos line the shore, Siemon said it may be time to re-evaluate whether the infrastructure has kept up.
“Success breeds success,” Siemon said. “The focus then was on getting something started. Now apparently there’s some perspective that they need to slow down.”
Siemon said Beach By Design called for parking strategies like city-run ferries, trolleys and shuttles to discourage cars on the island, but those alternatives have not materialized like he’d hoped.
To alleviate congestion, Siemon said the city could require more room between buildings, but limiting development once you’ve asked for it is tricky.
“You work like crazy to get people to invest, and when they do invest you tell them to slow down, so it’s not easy,” he said. “I think they should be going through the process of taking time to quickly analyze what’s good and what’s the bad and what’s the ugly. Fix the ugly. Promote the good and try to make it all work.”
TampaBay.com November 2015