CLEARWATER — Where exactly do you put a public parking garage on the tourist mecca of south Clearwater Beach? This tricky question has bedeviled the City Council for some time now, offering new twists and turns month after month.
Council members are growing impatient. Another spring break has come and gone without enough parking on the beach, and they're getting frustrated at the lack of progress.
But they're divided. On Monday, three viewpoints emerged on the five-member council, with three different sites being championed. Council members are planning to vote at their meeting Thursday night, but it's looking doubtful that any location will win three out of five votes at this time.
John Doran and Carlen Petersen favor building a garage at the Clearwater Municipal Marina.
Paul Gibson and George Cretekos would add levels to the city's waterfront parking lot at the south end of the beach next to where the Adam's Mark hotel once stood.
And Mayor Frank Hibbard prefers the site of the Britt's restaurant along the BeachWalk promenade just south of the Hyatt Aqualea Resort.
"All of the sites are imperfect," Hibbard said. "To me right now, Britt's is the least imperfect."
In their quest to build a beach garage, city officials have been negotiating with various property owners for months, trying to make sure Clearwater doesn't get a raw deal. An update on those negotiations Monday sparked a vigorous debate at a City Council work session.
Britt's: City leaders like this location because beachgoers could park near the sand and not have to walk across Coronado Drive. But a potential deal with Surf Style Retail Management, owner of the Britt's site, has run into complications.
Surf Style would build a six-floor, 500-space garage rising above a bottom floor of 30,000 square feet of retail space. But it recently learned it will need federal permission to build on the ground level in a flood zone. It will likely have to put a protective sand dune in front of its property, similar to the dunes that are in front of the Aqualea Resort.
Just getting permission could take six to eight months, which is making the City Council think twice.
The marina: Doran proposed building a garage in the marina's parking lot. Some have suggested that drivers might have trouble getting in and out of a garage so near the Beach Roundabout, and they worry about hindering beach traffic. But Doran said engineers and architects could solve any potential problems. "I'm tired of waiting," he said.
However, Hibbard doubts that's really a quick fix. He doesn't think the city could build that garage without redeveloping the marina property, and many businesses inside the city's marina have leases.
Adam's Mark: Gibson and Cretekos argued for building on the parking lot next to the Adam's Mark site on S Gulfview Boulevard. The city owns it, and beachgoers could park without dodging traffic, they said.
However, the other three council members oppose putting a garage on the waterfront. Hibbard said gulf views from the road are part of what makes Clearwater different from other Pinellas beaches.
"You can drive from Clearwater Beach all the way down to Pass-a-Grille," he said. "After you leave Sand Key, it's hard to even know that there's water over on your right as you head south."
Gibson argued that a parking structure would only block about 40 feet of beach view, with much of the garage bordering Clearwater Pass instead of the beach. Other council members questioned that.
Cretekos said there's no water view at that spot anyway, but a rooftop deck on a garage would provide one.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.