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Clearwater Beach residents fear a noisy, crowded future

Crowds pack Clearwater Beach on a Friday afternoon in March.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Crowds pack Clearwater Beach on a Friday afternoon in March.

CLEARWATER — Gwen Douse bought a condo in Clearwater Beach in 2005, anticipating living a beautiful, placid seaside life: Think Sarasota.

Fast-forward nine years and the north beach condo owner, who has lived in the Sandpearl and Mandalay Beach Club, said it hasn't turned out that way.

"The mayor keeps saying, 'well, you should have known, you moved into a tourist district,' " Douse said. "I don't know why loud music equals tourist district. Sometimes you walk down the street and it's like Battle of the Bands."

It's not only the loud music. Some residents worry that a proposed parking garage at Pelican Walk Plaza will clog traffic and further nudge the neighborhood toward a late-night party destination.

To be sure, Mandalay Avenue has changed over the last few years.

Popular beach bars and restaurants like Toucan's Bar & Grill and the Brown Boxer Pub & Grille opened after high-rise condos like the Mandalay Beach Club and the Sandpearl Residences were built. And the city has already approved a plan to open a craft brewery nearby.

But Mandalay Avenue has never been a quiet eddy on Clearwater Beach, Mayor George Cretekos said.

"That's always been the main active street on north beach," he said.

At the core of the tumult, said City Manager Bill Horne, is the city's attempt to balance the interests of residents against tourists and tourism-dependent businesses.

"It's that tension we've allowed," Horne said.

At a recent meeting, the City Council discussed tweaking the city's noise ordinance in response to complaints from north beach residents, primarily those who live in the Mandalay Beach Club and Sandpearl.

The ordinance won't change, but the way police enforce it will.

Previously, the police have used their discretion to warn or cite violators, based on a standard of whether the noise is loud and raucous 100 feet away.

The new policy requires them to issue three warnings before writing a citation.

A possible tougher response could be to call in code enforcement officers and levy fines of up to $500 per day per violation, but that would be more of a "long-term" solution for recalcitrant business owners, Horne said.

Mandalay Avenue residents say they don't want to hurt businesses that cater to tourists.

Atif Abdelkader, Toucan's owner, said he is frustrated by the complaints about the noise. Since the beginning of the year, police have been called at least two dozen times for noise violations to his bar at 431 Mandalay Ave.

"It's the beach," Abdelkader said. "I spent $2 million on this business. I pay a lot of taxes."

Abdelkader said many of the condo owners are part-time residents and many rent out their units.

"That's a business, too," he said. "It's a commercial district."

But Abdelkader said he would work with the city and residents to solve the problem.

Meanwhile, some residents are raising their voices in protest against the parking garage. The city is still working on a financial feasibility study and negotiating with the developer. If the two sides agree on the details, construction would start later this year.

Sharon Smith, a Mandalay Beach Club resident, said the city should build a garage farther north. A garage near the intersection of Mandalay Avenue and Baymont Street will just add to the congestion and wouldn't provide easy beach access, she said.

"Look what they would have to walk through to get to the beach," Smith said.

Cretekos said he doesn't understand the argument that a parking garage will increase traffic.

"In my opinion, it eliminates traffic because people aren't driving around, searching for a spot," he said.

Recently, nearly two dozen beach residents signed a letter addressed to neighbors opposing the garage.

They predicted traffic jams, questioned the city's financial commitment of $11.3 million for 450 parking spaces in the multistory structure and implored their neighbors to register their displeasure with the city.

"If you like the concrete jungle of Miami Beach, you'll love the concrete jungle of Clearwater Beach," the letter read.

Cretekos said the beach is an economic engine for the city and Mandalay Avenue residents should have known there would be noise and lots of activity when they decided to buy.

"They see a high price, they see a really nice condo, they fall in love with condo, they fall in love with view and they forget where they're moving into," Cretekos said.

Smith, the Mandalay Beach Club resident, said she has been shaken awake in her bed by the street noise.

"No one told me I was buying in a tourist district," she said.

Charlie Frago can be reached at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159. Follow @CharlieFrago on Twitter.

Clearwater Beach residents fear a noisy, crowded future 05/15/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 15, 2014 1:59pm]

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