CLEARWATER — A seven-story parking garage at the north end of Clearwater Beach's tourist district keeps moving closer to reality despite persistent opposition by an assortment of nearby residents.
The 642-space garage is to be built at the Pelican Walk Plaza on Mandalay Avenue at Baymont Street. It cleared a significant legal obstacle this week when its design, size and location were unanimously approved by Clearwater's Community Development Board.
Some neighboring residents remain opposed to the garage, calling it an eyesore that would only create more road congestion.
But city officials and business owners say more parking is badly needed in the area just north of the Clearwater Beach Roundabout, particularly for beach workers and patrons of the Mandalay business district.
"We don't have enough parking," said Atif Abdelkader, owner of Toucan's Bar & Grill and Captain's Pizza. He told the development board Tuesday. "If you go to Clearwater Beach and you sit in traffic for one or two hours, what are you going to think the next time you want to go to Clearwater Beach?"
The Clearwater City Council has already unanimously approved an agreement with developer Michael Connor, a resident of the neighboring Sandpearl condo tower, to build the garage.
There's only one more significant step left. Next month, the council is to vote on a legally binding development agreement with Connor. Officials will hear comments from the public at a council meeting Aug. 20 beginning at 6 p.m.
The garage's opponents are also pondering potential legal challenges.
If the project gets legal clearance, Connor's company, Paradise Group LLC, could finish the garage as early as next year.
The 89 spaces on the garage's bottom floor would be reserved for workers in the Pelican Walk Plaza, which is expanding and might lure a grocery store. The public would park on levels 2 through 6, from which the city of Clearwater would spend $11.3 million to buy 450 parking spaces for public use.
Another 103 spaces on the garage's seventh floor would be leased out, possibly to the nearby Sandpearl resort or to other businesses for employee parking.
Some of the project's detractors live in the Sandpearl or Mandalay Beach Club condominium towers. But the boards of those condos aren't fighting the garage, and condo owners aren't showing up in force. Other opponents live on East Shore Drive near the proposed garage.
Detractors say the garage is too big and boxy and would attract extra traffic. Pelican Walk's lot has space for 80 vehicles, not 642.
"I'm not saying we don't need a parking garage," said Bill Day, who owns the East Shore Resort & Marina. "We need a parking garage with common sense. We don't have to have it seven stories high, with 100 percent coverage of a piece of property."
However, the city's planners say the proposed garage complies with Beach by Design, the city's master plan for beach redevelopment. That plan specifically calls for a parking garage at that location.
"This project fulfills a foundational vision of Beach by Design that the city has been chasing for 15 years," Connor's attorney, Brian Aungst Jr., told the development board.
The garage's exterior would feature artwork lit from below by LED lights, the project's architect said. However, neighbors to the east complained that the side facing them would basically be a concrete wall, with no landscaping.
A traffic study commissioned by the developer predicted no significant problems, although opponents questioned the study's findings.
The idea for a garage on the north beach has been floating around for the better part of a decade. Previous plans to build a garage behind Pelican Walk fell through.
Mandalay Avenue is a busy beach thoroughfare. With tourism booming, year-round crowds have put increasing pressure on the 2,637 available parking spaces from Acacia Street south to the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa.
A city-commissioned study predicts the garage will make money from the start: about $100,000 a year from 2017 to 2026.
Contact Mike Brassfield at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. Follow @MikeBrassfield.