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To IE Residents about CMA expansion

To residents regarding the recent approval of CMA expansion

 

To all Island Estates Residents:


On January 19, the Clearwater Community Development Board approved a development application submitted by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to expand its facilities to add two buildings, additional dolphin tanks and a parking garage. At the CDB hearing, representatives of the CMA urged approval of the project on the basis that it needs the proposed expansion because the current facility is too small to handle its animal rescue and rehabilitation work and the garage is needed to resolve the ongoing parking problems on Island Estates. The City’s Planning and Development Department staff recommended approval of the project.
 
Members of the IECA Board have heard Island Estates residents express strong feelings of support or opposition to the proposed development. A huge crowd attended the CDB hearing, including many Island Estates residents who spoke passionately for or against the project. People opposed to the project worry about the size, scale and appearance of the project, traffic issues and use of the parking garage by beach goers. People in favor of the project cite the economic benefits to the City from the CMA operations and their worthy mission of rescuing sea animals and research that has resulted in new prosthetic limb treatments for disabled children and war veterans.
 
A number of residents commented that they did not get enough notice or opportunity to meaningfully participate in the CDB process. During the hearing, the CMA attorney explained that delay would be problematic because of the prospect of losing a $1.7 million dollar state grant that expires in June. The required formal Notice announcing the CDB meeting is only mailed to residents within 200 feet of the project site. While the technical legal requirements for the formal Notice were met, many residents were understandably frustrated that they weren’t notified. That is why the IECA did what it could to spread the word, by posting links to the development application and other information on its website, including it in newsletters, providing contact information for the City planning staff in charge of the project, and conducting a Town Hall meeting on January 12 with a presentation by CMA representatives.
Unfortunately, because only about 20-25% of Island Estates households belong to the Civic Association, we could only reach a fraction of the Island.
 
The IECA Board worked diligently to act as a source of information as soon as it became available. It pursued the role as a provider of information rather than taking an advocacy role for or against the project because there was nothing close to a consensus of opinion within the neighborhood. Some of the neighborhood residents have complained about that. We take very seriously any resident complaints that we did not meet our obligations to the Island Estates community. However, on a proposal affecting the community that is so controversial, with very strong feelings on both sides, it would be terribly unfair for the Civic Association to take one side and oppose the other.  
 
The CMA has two years to complete its development plan details and begin the permit process. The IECA will monitor the project and provide additional information as it becomes available.  Interested or concerned residents are encouraged to visit the City Planning and Development Department in the municipal services building, 100 South Myrtle Avenue, on the second floor, or call them at (727) 562-4567. The Planning staff members are happy to meet with residents and answer their questions. The IECA also will research ways in which we might improve communications about pending development applications in the future.
 
We realize and regret that we cannot make all of the residents who are disappointed in the outcome or the IECA role in it happy, but hope this helps gain some better understanding. We hope that the Island Estates community will pull together as it always does, and that our neighbors will continue to support the IECA.