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Clearwater Beach development a victim of its success

Gulfview Boulevard no longer boasts a view of the gulf.

Hotels and condominiums have barricaded the skyline, and shoulder-to-shoulder buildings block what USA Today called the nation's best place to watch a sunset.

Even pavement is getting paved over. The former parking lot of the Holiday Inn on S Gulfview is soon to be the 10-story Clearwater Beach Guesthouse, leaving just feet of air space between the two buildings.

"Clearwater Beach is beautiful, it's one of the most beautiful beaches, but the problem is you can't see it anymore," said Billy Day, owner of the 14-unit motel East Shore Resort. "It's concrete city."

About 15 years ago the city wrote policy designed to lure hotels and luxury resorts to the depressed beach that was heavy with aging buildings and in need of an economic boost.

But as redevelopment snowballed in the economic turnaround, developers gobbled up almost all vacant parcels, leaving just three lots free from a building or construction fence today.

"I do believe the council needs to decide how much is enough, and I think our infrastructure is now a limiting factor," said former Mayor Frank Hibbard. "We've primed the pump, we've got the development, but I think you can have too much. And I think we've gotten to that point."

• • •

Clearwater is approaching a significant milestone in the beach's history as a hotel density reserve created in 2008 has nearly run dry.

The reserve created a pool of 1,385 extra rooms that mid-sized hotels could draw from to pack up to 150 rooms per acre, up from the former 50 per-acre maximum.

An earlier pool for luxury resorts, written in the city's 2001 redevelopment plan Beach by Design, offered 600 extra rooms. That incentive is what lured the Sand Pearl Resort, Hyatt Regency and the 450-room Wyndham Grand Resort expected to open in 2017.

The mid-sized pool is down to about 20 rooms, but planning and development director Michael Delk said another round is unlikely.

With intense redevelopment now accomplished, the next step should be better ways to handle the parking and traffic congestion that has followed, he said.

"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.

"It's just a big elephant in the midst of a low-rise area," Day said. "The almighty dollar and the developers just convinced the city fathers that this is how it's supposed to be."

• • •

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.

"We get all these additional cars, but we can't handle the traffic we have now," he said.

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.

Susan Boschen, owner of the Seagull Apartments directly across the street from the future hotel, begged CDB members to strike down the rooftop feature. She said noise from the bar will disturb her apartment tenants, who chose to live in what they thought was a residential area.

"We watched over the last 10 years on north Clearwater Beach short-term rentals interspersed in the residential community," Boschen said. "If you're going to put a bar less than 50 feet from my front door, you might as well put me out of business."

• • •

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.

The beach has gone from a sleepy weekend outing for locals to a resort destination for international travelers.

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."

Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

Clearwater Beach development a victim of its success 11/02/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 8:44am]
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