Editor’s note: Ahead of the March 13 election, the Tampa Bay Times is publishing profiles on Clearwater City Council candidates for Seat 4 today. Profiles on candidates for Seat 5 will appear next week.
CLEARWATER — The longtime politically active Aungst family. Influential lawyer Ed Armstrong. The owners of Clearwater Ferry. The director of the Jolley Trolley. Developers, business owners and a slew of local Republican politicians.
Clearwater’s political brass have clearly thrown their support or money behind retired building contractor David Allbritton for City Council Seat 4 in the March 13 election, helping him raise $13,647, according to the most recent available treasurer report. Facing political newcomer Tom Keller for the seat being vacated by the term-limited Bill Jonson, Allbritton said his track record and dedication to the community sets him apart.
Allbritton, 67, ran unsucessfully against Jonson for the City Council seat in 2014, losing by 312 votes. But with years served on the city’s Municipal Code Enforcement Board, Downtown Development Board and currently the Community Development Board, Allbritton said his experience will help guide the city into its next chapter of revitalization and growth.
"I love Clearwater. I was born and raised here. My kids live here, my grandkids live here, and I want to see Clearwater make the right decisions in the future," Allbritton said. "We’ve got a lot of things going to be happening in the next four years. ... We’ve got these economic waves and you’ve got to ride those waves, if you want things done, when the getting is good."
Allbritton said the city’s $55 million Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment plan is key to bringing downtown back to life. He said maintaining open communication with the Church of Scientology, downtown’s largest property owner, in that effort will be vital.
But he said encouraging private business to invest so the redevelopment plan does not "lose steam" is just as crucial. He said being an advocate for revitalization and helping businesses navigate the process of opening shop during this transition phase is one of his priorities.
"In the near future we’re going to start seeing, instead of the city and Scientology trying to get together on things, there’s going to be a third leg to this," he said. "There’s going to be the private sector, and if we can get the private sector in with the city and Scientology, I think we can make some things happen."
Allbritton focused most of his 37-year contracting career on design and remodel work in Clearwater Beach and downtown before retiring in 2016. But in the 1990s he said he also was contracted to build 150 Checkers restaurants across the U.S.
He owns two vacation homes on Clearwater Beach and is one of a handful of property owners in Clearwater legally allowed to rent out property for less than 30 days. He was a plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenged the city’s 2003 short-term rental ban as being a breach of property rights.
In 2007, a state appeal’s court sided with the beach landlords and decided the ban only applied to properties rented out after 2003, which grandfathered-in about 30 homes.
Allbritton said he will not advocate for any changes to Clearwater’s short-term rental ban, saying the boom in the use of online booking companies, like Airbnb, since his lawsuit has saturated the area with problem vacation homes and landlords.
"There’s been a huge uptick in private people renting their houses," he said. "I’m a property rights guy, but I understand it can be disruptive for neighbors."
Allbritton got involved in civic life through the Municipal Code Enforcement Board in 1997 and helped write policy recommendations for the city’s business task force in 2015.
He said his priorities as council member would be on neighborhood safety, maintaining infrastructure long-term, improving municipal services and making the city more business friendly.
He is an advocate for bus rapid transit expansion in the short-term to alleviate traffic congestion but would like to see more well-developed alternative transit proposals for the future.
Allbritton said his experience as a contractor working with the city’s building department for 30 years gives him unique insight into understanding what can be streamlined to facilitate new businesses.
As a City Council member, he said he would advocate for an ombudsman in the building department who could help guide business owners through a sometimes confusing and intimidating process. He said the lay person can often be turned off by the various requirements, which has contributed to businesses skipping over the city.
"Most people go down to the building department, first of all it’s new, they don’t know how it works, and a lot of time it’s easier to say no for people there if they don’t understand something," Allbritton said.
Allbritton said he’d like to see parking requirements be further simplified in downtown, which is being implemented with the proposed Downtown Redevelopment Plan going before the City Council this year.
Above all, Allbritton said his goal is to make the whole community feel like downtown Clearwater is welcoming and open for business, because the urban core, he said, still acts as the heart of the city.
"I’ve got a vision and I’m going to push for that because I’m very passionate about it," he said.
Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.