Appeal of Clearwater Marine Aquarium to be heard Friday
Island Estates residents were none too pleased back in January when the city approved Clearwater Marine Aquarium's $45 million expansion plan.
So displeased, in fact, they pooled together some cash and hired a lawyer to fight it.
Tomorrow, an administrative judge will hear the residents' appeal, centered on concerns the city's Community Development Board rubber stamped the plans without enough community input. Residents also fear only a traffic nightmare could come from a three-story, 437-space parking garage; two-story dolphin pool; and two four-story towers to house animal life support systems, exhibits, a theater and more.
“The major one on this is the people feel like a decision had been made without their having any input,” said resident Peter Kohut and unofficial leader of the opposition.
Aquarium executive Vice President Frank Dame did organize a town hall to share details with residents a week before the CDB approval hearing, but Kohut said that wasn't enough.
Assistant City Attorney Camilo Soto said development appeals are relatively rare, but not unheard of. Soto also doesn't expect the judge to issue a decision tomorrow.
The development code prohibits either side from bringing in any new evidence to the hearing, and the burden will be on the appellants to show the “decision of the community development board cannot be sustained by substantial competent evidence before the board, or that the decision of the board departs from the essential requirements of law,” according to the code.
In the meantime, aquarium CEO David Yates said his staff is fundraising “pretty much 24/7 right now” for the project. He declined to say how much cash has been raised so far but added the aquarium has hired a full-time “major gifts officer” to help speed things up.
For those interested, the administrative appeal hearing will start at 9 a.m. April 8 in City Hall's third floor Council chambers, 112 S Osceola Ave.