Clearwater council narrowly approves new beach resort

CLEARWATER — A beach district known for its mom-and-pop motels could soon bathe in the shade of a seven-story resort, as city leaders Thursday dodged criticism to approve the development of a Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

The City Council's 3-2 vote will allow developers to build a 134-room hotel, restaurant and boat dock on a stretch of Clearwater Harbor the length of a football field. Construction could begin as early as this year.

The hotel will be on more than an acre off Papaya Street and Eastshore Drive, a block north of the Clearwater Beach roundabout. It will tower over its neighbors, a crop of old-Florida motels. Dissenting City Council members Paul Gibson and Bill Jonson worried that the hotel could quickly overwhelm its neighbors.

"No one wants economic development more than myself," said Gibson, a beach Realtor. "But this project is too massive. It's too tall. … It's just too much, so I'm not going to support it."

Despite neighbors' protests, the resort also won unanimous support from the Community Development Board last month. Developers will still need to secure building permits before they can break ground.

Approval of the project continues Clearwater Beach's march toward modernity. The city's master plan for beach redevelopment, called Beach by Design, has played a key role. Half of the rooms in the new hotel will come from a special "density reserve," and developers will earn a "height bonus" allowing them to build higher in exchange for opening a public boardwalk.

Led by Clearwater developer Elias Anastasopoulos, Louis Developments LLC assembled the land in 2005 for more than $7.6 million, property records show. Though billed as a Courtyard by Marriott, the hotel's brand affiliation, or "flag," is not guaranteed.

Also not guaranteed: that the hotel will ever get built. City leaders, stung by the failures of Kiran Patel's planned $250 million beach resort and an unfinished downtown condo tower called the Strand, remain nervous that a similar collapse could happen again.

Neighbors said they're worried that the new hotel, with its "tropical modern architecture," could spoil the neighborhood's quaint appeal. A development agreement said three aging pink buildings on the site will be destroyed.

Council members wondered whether the hotel would clog the neighborhood's tight streets. A traffic study found the hotel could bring 1,200 more vehicular trips a day to narrow Eastshore Drive.

William Day, owner of the neighboring East Shore Resort, said the heavier traffic could endanger tourists flocking toward the shore.

"People are constantly crossing that street. … It just is not safe," Day said. "I don't know why we're making concessions to developers at the expense of the taxpayers and the safety of our neighborhood."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@tampabay.com. Send letters to the editor to tampabay.com/letters.

Clearwater council narrowly approves new beach resort 07/20/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 20, 2012 9:01pm]

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