CLEARWATER — The city is getting closer to deciding where to put a parking garage on the beach, but there are a couple of sticking points.
Will it be able to get federal permission to build on the ground level in a flood zone? Will a knee-high "wave dissipating wall" along the BeachWalk promenade be enough to satisfy the Federal Emergency Management Agency?
Should the streets on South Clearwater Beach be one-way or two-way? One-way might help traffic get in and out of the garage, but beach businesses would almost surely oppose it.
Clearwater is trying to decide between two locations for the 300-space garage.
The leading contender spent Monday seeking to reassure city officials that it will win approval from FEMA. But that could take six to eight months, and the City Council must decide whether to wait that long for something that's not necessarily a sure thing.
Council members will take this up on Thursday night. They're thinking of putting a garage on the site of the Britts Laguna Grill restaurant at 315 S Gulfview Blvd., located along BeachWalk.
Another possibility is a 1-acre site a block and a half from the beach on Fifth Street between Hamden and Coronado drives. Once owned by Lucca Development, it's now owned by the St. Petersburg-based development company Mainstream America, which plans to build a beachfront resort nearby.
On Monday, the City Council learned that the owner of the Britts site, Surf Style Retail Management, has made some changes to its proposal:
• It would build only 300 parking spaces instead of 500, but it wouldn't need any financing from the city to do that.
• This would be a privately operated parking garage, but it would be open to the public. It would be built and maintained according to the city's standards.
• Surf Style envisions a restaurant and retail shops in the bottom two levels beneath five levels of parking.
• Instead of putting a protective sand dune in front of the garage, it would build an 18-inch-high "wave break" wall along BeachWalk to slow down the velocity of incoming waves during a storm. Surf Style's coastal engineer said Monday she's confident this plan would win FEMA's permission to put businesses on the garage's ground floor.
Some council members prefer the Britts option because beachgoers could park and not have to cross Coronado Drive. They also prefer it because Mainstream's plan would cost the city about $33,000 per parking space.
But council members George Cretekos and Carlen Petersen worry that a garage at the Britts site, next to the Hyatt garage, would load too many parking spaces into a small area.
Cretekos asked if turning Coronado and Hamden into one-way streets would help traffic flow.
Traffic operations manager Paul Bertels said that would work well, but businesses opposed such a change when it was suggested in 1976 and 1988.
Mayor Frank Hibbard warned that the city would run into a "business buzz saw" if it tried to make those streets one way.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.