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City Council faces sticky issues in Clearwater: Frisbee and skateboarding bans and library cuts

CLEARWATER — When it meets Thursday, the City Council may settle a range of thorny issues that have been the subject of much talk but to date are pending decisive action.

Will the skateboard ban on parts of Clearwater Beach stick? Will rules that limit games of catch in city parks and beaches be revised? Will a Clearwater Beach hotel project that takes advantage of new density allowances go forward?

All those questions could be answered, but officials doubt whether a final decision will be made on funding the North Greenwood Library in next year's budget.

"It's going to be a big meeting," said Mayor Frank Hibbard. "You'll get resolution on the skateboarding, you'll get resolution on the ball throwing and you'll get resolution on the hotel. I don't think you're going to get resolution on the budget."

Adding to the scene will be Local 3179 of the Communications Workers of America, which represents municipal employees. The local plans a rally for 5:15 p.m. at City Hall to oppose library and recreation center budget cuts.

The skateboard dustup began in mid July, when the city administration responded to complaints from business owners and banned the sport in the Mandalay Avenue retail district and on the BeachWalk promenade.

Some skateboarders were being rude to tourists, the city said, and were damaging public property.

A stung skateboarding community found its voice and protested at City Hall. The mayor held a public meeting at the Clearwater Beach Library & Recreation Complex, where opponents of the ban outnumbered supporters.

Despite the backlash, the administration is recommending that the ban remain in place, though it's possible the rule could be eased.

"We have to find some middle ground," said City Council member John Doran, "and that's what we will be trying to do Thursday night."

Limiting games of catch and organized sports like football and softball to designated areas of parks and beaches will likely be jettisoned.

Originally devised to address isolated complaints over boisterous flag football games at Crest Lake Park, the rule is not enforced when it comes to casual games of catch and Frisbee.

Nonetheless, it bugs City Council member George Cretekos, who has lobbied to change the rule so that it allows all such play unless it create public safety concerns.

"I think it sets a wrong example to a child when we tell them to stop at a stop sign even when there's not a policeman there," Cretekos said, "and then tell them don't follow the law because there's not a policeman there and they are not enforcing it."

A proposed Holiday Inn Express at Coronado and Devon drives enjoys support from the majority of the council. Of the hotel's planned 108 units, 72 will come from a density pool created in July last year.

The pool allows hotel developers to build more units than they otherwise could per acre. It was created as an incentive to build hotel units, many of which Clearwater has lost to condominium construction.

It's the first time the council will be allocating units from the pool.

Vice Mayor Paul Gibson agrees that the developers have met all requirements for getting access to the pool and other criteria, but is concerned the eight-story hotel project will dwarf surrounding buildings.

"The setbacks and the mass of the building are my major concern," Gibson said.

As for the North Greenwood Library, a proposed budget calls for moving some of its collection and computers across the street to the North Greenwood Recreation and Aquatic Complex.

Keeping it open would cost $120,000, and the council would have to cut that money somewhere else in the budget. Defenders have urged city leaders to find a way to keep the library open.

Hibbard said a final decision will likely not be made until Sept. 3, when the first of two public hearings on the proposed budget is scheduled.

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4166.

fast facts

What's next

What: The Clearwater City Council will meet.

When: 6 p.m. Thursday.

Where: City Hall, 112 S Osceola Ave.

City Council faces sticky issues in Clearwater: Frisbee and skateboarding bans and library cuts 08/18/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 8:41pm]
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