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SECOND BUSINESS IS SUING CITY

Anchor Mini-Mart joins Hi Seas Motel saying sidewalks block parking.

Another Clearwater beach business has sued the city, saying that sidewalk construction has damaged its business and forced customers away.

The suit by Christina McNeil Tracey, who owns Anchor Mini-Mart, comes in the wake of a similar claim by the Hi Seas Motel several months ago related to the BeachWalk project.

Both businesses say the city built raised-curb sidewalks on either side of the half-mile-long Coronado Drive in mid February that block access to perpendicular parking adjacent to the businesses. Anchor Mini-Mart says it lost all of its six spaces. Hi Seas, on S Gulfview Boulevard, lost eight of its 33 spaces on Coronado.

In addition, Anchor's suit, filed in late June, says the construction ruined drainage patterns, so stormwater now pools in front of the store, further cutting off customer access.

The Anchor suit asks for more than $15,000 in damages, a threshhold to have the case heard in circuit court. The lawsuit filed by the hotel owners does not seek specific damages, but attorney Patrick Maguire said Friday the "city could be looking at $500,000."

Both suits, filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, ask for jury trials.

Clearwater officials deny wrongdoing. Assistant City Manager Garry Brumback says the city owns the right of way to the parking, and the businesses were told more than a year ago that it was being taken back.

In addition, the city says the businesses violated city code when they allowed motorists to use the spaces, since they were used as perpendicular parking - something Clearwater doesn't allow, but rarely enforces.

City engineer Mike Quillen says local leaders tried to work with the two businesses. The city offered to restore three hotel spaces that wouldn't violate city code, he said, but owners declined the offer.

Maguire, the hotel owner's attorney, says a deal still can be worked out if the city flattens all of the sidewalks to enable access to the hotel's eight spaces. He said the spaces were approved under the city's zoning code and are listed on the hotel's 1964 site plan.

"You lose eight spaces out of a 33-room motel and you have serious economic issues," he said. "I'm just waiting for the city to see the light."

He said flattening the sidewalk would cost a few thousand dollars, but he'll seek much more from the city in damages if the case goes to trial.

A little more than a week ago, work crews did flatten the sidewalks outside of Anchor Mini-Mart, creating a horseshoe that goes around a raised sidewalk and a tree.

Brumback said the work does not mean the city is admitting to doing anything wrong, but rather wanted to show good faith that officials would try to work with the business.

But the small store's attorney, James Helinger, said the recent work is "horrible." Delivery trucks cannot get in front of the store and water still pools up to the doorstep.

"If you think they've avoided liability for what they've done, they haven't; and I can't wait to try this case in front of a jury," he said.

Work began last year on the city's $30.4-million BeachWalk initiative, two half-mile promenades that run parallel to S Gulfview Boulevard from Pier 60 to where the Adam's Mark Hotel once stood. Work on the first phase was done on Coronado, where crews widened the road and built the sidewalks. The project will also feature a game table area, decorative showers, greenery and a seating area.

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