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Dispute over condo project settled

Published Sep. 9, 2005

At issue was Clearwater's approval of more Mandalay Beach Club units than allowed by the county.

A dispute that flared when the City Commission voted last year to allow a 157-unit condominium to rise on Clearwater Beach _ in apparent violation of Pinellas County building limits _ has been resolved.

The Pinellas County Commission approved an agreement this week to allow construction of the Mandalay Beach Club by JMC Communities to continue north of Papaya Street on the beach.

The Clearwater City Commission also recently voted to approve the deal.

"I think the resolution was a common-sense solution that made good planning sense for the city and the county," said Ed Armstrong, the Clearwater attorney who represented the condominium's developer, JMC Communities. "We're gratified."

Ralph Stone, the city's planning director, agreed.

"I think it was a fair way to resolve it," Stone said.

The major point of contention last year was that the city gave the developers of the condominium nine more credits to develop extra units on their property than were allowed under the county's master land plan.

The credits, called development rights, were "transferred" via a legal agreement from a nearby city parking lot.

County officials objected that the city had not followed county rules, which restrict such transfers.

"Our mistake was that there was a section in the countywide rules for this process, and our process didn't match that," said Stone, the city's planner. "Simple as that."

The county rules were structured to allow transfers of development credits from properties in order to save environmentally sensitive areas from being developed. The city's transfer to the Mandalay Beach Club was not allowed, according to county planners.

City planners replied that they had informed the county of their plans for such transfers, and they believed the county had okayed their new policy.

Discussions to resolve the dispute ensued.

To resolve the disagreement, Pinellas County officials agreed to allow transfers of development credits within economic redevelopment areas.

Then the city was required to pass a plan to designate a redevelopment area on Clearwater Beach. Without such a plan, which the city dubbed Beach by Design, the county did not want to allow construction of the Mandalay Beach Club's second tower to continue.

The City Commission recently passed the beach plan. Now the Pinellas County Commission will consider approving it.

In addition, the city agreed not to allow transfers of development credits if they would increase the size of a development allowed on a property by more than 20 percent.

Also, the city had to agree never to redevelop the parking lot that transferred its development credits to the condominium as anything more than a parking lot or recreation area.