CLEARWATER — Clearwater Beach residents are intensely protective of the Municipal Marina. They cherish it as one of the last places on the barrier island where the public has free and easy access to Clearwater Bay.
Despite the misgivings of many beach dwellers, the Clearwater City Council has decided to push forward with an initiative that would make it possible for the city to redevelop the marina property someday.
But first, council members repeatedly questioned the city attorney Thursday night. Seeking to calm residents' fears, officials want to make sure that no one can make significant changes to the publicly owned marina without first getting approval from Clearwater voters.
City Attorney Pam Akin repeatedly said a referendum would be required — even when City Council members kept throwing different scenarios at her.
Council member John Doran asked: Could the city put a hotel on the marina site?
Akin said that would require changing the zoning and the local land use plan, which would take a public vote.
How about a conference center or convention center? Akin's answer was the same.
"Could we lease this land to someone to build a hotel?" Doran asked.
"Not without a referendum to change the land use," Akin said.
Other council members had similar questions, echoing the concerns of beach residents.
The subject of this controversy is an 84-year-old "reverter clause" that dates to when Florida gave the local government a swath of land in Clearwater Bay to build a causeway to the beach.
Language in that 1925 deal stipulated that the land must be used only for public purposes like parks and recreation, or it will be returned to the state.
The marina is located on this land. The city is asking state Rep. Jim Frishe, who represents Clearwater Beach, to propose and help pass a law this spring eliminating the reverter clause.
The council voted unanimously Thursday night to reaffirm their support for that idea.
Officials have talked of redeveloping the marina in the future. The said they intend to keep its fishing fleet — a big tourist attraction — while adding more shops to attract more visitors. But Clearwater Beach activists fear the city will put a hotel there, changing the property's character.
After Thursday night's vote, some beach residents remained suspicious, while others were satisfied that the city can't do anything to the marina without a referendum.
"You've pretty much covered our fears," Jay Keyes, president of the Clearwater Beach Association, told the council.
He added that the city should take steps to protect Crabby Bill's Restaurant since there's speculation that its lease on the marina property is already violating the reverter clause.
The city attorney also answered a question from resident Shelley Kuroghlian: The city could build a parking garage at the marina without a referendum, Akin said.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.