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Deal near on water pollution fines

After months of negotiations, the city and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are nearing a deal to have the city pay about $97,000 in fines for discharging wastewater into local waterways that violated state standards.

The violations at the city's three sewer treatment plants occurred from June 2000 through last year and possibly longer. Since the city began fixing the problems last year, Public Utilities Director Andy Neff said Clearwater has been able to lower levels of copper in discharges into Stevenson Creek and Tampa Bay, meeting state standards.

But city staff members are still trying to improve the disinfection processes at the city's plants so they meet other state regulations.

The city could avoid paying any fines if it spends 1.5 times the penalty amount on a project to help the environment, such as hooking up old septic tanks onto the city's sewage system, Neff said.

Developer pushes for bigger signs

CLEARWATER _ Sembler Co., the company redeveloping Clearwater Mall, argued with city planners at a Community Development Board meeting Tuesday over the size of the signs it wants at the new mall.

City planners have proposed allowing signs attached to buildings to be up to five times bigger that what is now allowed by city codes. But Greg Sembler, of the Sembler Co., told city development board members this week that he thinks signs should be up to six times larger. He also suggested that developers be able to have signs that large "by right."

Currently, the city's code gives city planners discretion to decide just how big such signs can be.

Sembler also told board members that the mall needs up to 10 freestanding signs as tall as 44 feet and larger than city rules permit so that 10 mall tenants can have their names on the signs.

One city planner suggested that rather than changing rules to allow larger signs at the mall, the Sembler Co. may want to reconsider plans to locate some stores so far from U.S. 19 and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

The development board decided to schedule a special meeting in the next two weeks to continue discussing the sign issues.