The project’s size has shocked residents and city officials. And under new rules, it no longer requires a public hearing.
By Tracey McManus
CLEARWATER — Developer Moises Agami is proposing luxury waterfront condos on the southern edge of downtown that, if built, would become the tallest buildings in Clearwater and some of the largest in Tampa Bay.
At 470 feet, the two 35-story towers would soar over the city’s highest building today — Water’s Edge, built on Cleveland Street in 2008 at 264 feet and 26 stories.
The buildings would be more than twice as tall as the 15-story Oaks of Clearwater assisted living facility to the north and the 13-story Prelude 80 condo to the south. And they would tower over the single-family homes in the bordering Harbor Oaks neighborhood.
Agami’s company is under contract to buy what is now a 2.5-acre parking lot from The Oaks to build his project.
“I was stunned,” Prelude 80 resident Maryellen Gordon said. “Then I thought there’s no way this is going to happen because it’s too tall and not in any context with the neighborhood.”
But despite Agami’s request to pack more units than city code allows, the buildings will not require a vote by the Community Development Board due to recent changes in downtown development standards aimed at cutting red tape.
A rendering of twin 35-story towers proposed by developer Moises Agami for 420 Bay Ave. in downtown Clearwater. The buildings would rise 470 feet — more than twice as tall as the assisted living facility to the north, at left, and condo to the south. [ City of Clearwater ]
A code change in May gave city staff authority to grant some requests for increased density downtown, no longer requiring a vote at a public hearing. And since 2004, there have been no height restrictions in the core, a district within downtown designed for high-intensity uses in the blocks around Coachman Park and the waterfront.
Without a need for a zoning change or more complicated flexibility, Agami’s application is currently under review by city staff, the only level of discretion required for his permits. Planning and development director Gina Clayton said staff has asked for more information on how the developer would configure a seawall and preserve existing mangroves, among other technical questions.
“There is still a lot to work out,” Clayton said.
Bay Valor Capital, Agami’s company proposing the condos, declined to answer a series of questions from the Tampa Bay Times about the rationale for the height, the project’s cost, its financing and other issues. He responded with a statement that said his company has offered to meet with neighbors to discuss their concerns.
“We are excited about this incredible opportunity as we embark on this remarkable journey to realize Clearwater’s enduring vision for a vibrant, sustainable downtown,” according to the statement. “We are honored to play a pivotal role in bringing this vision to life.”
Agami is the developer behind the luxury Serena by the Sea condo, completed this month on Edgewater Drive and Sunset Point Road, as well as the Skyview condo on Cleveland Street.
A company he manages has purchased several downtown properties since 2017, the year limited liability companies tied to the Church of Scientology began buying vast tracts of commercial real estate and keeping most vacant. Of 24 ground-level storefronts within Agami’s buildings on the main Cleveland Street drag, 15 are empty. Agami is a member of the church.
His latest project would include 223 units between the two towers — 38 more than what is allowed by code for the size of the lot on Bay Avenue. Agami is requesting the extra units from the city’s public amenities incentive pool created in 2004 to encourage development downtown.
On May 4, the City Council changed the code to allow planning staff to allocate units from the pool to some projects that include a public benefit, like electric vehicle charging. No longer will those developments have to go before the Community Development Board for a vote.
Agami submitted his application for the condos four weeks after the rule change.
Council member David Allbritton said the intention was “to try to cut the red tape that everybody stumbles over” and help bring more residential units downtown.
“I never anticipated we’d have a 35-story building right on the water,” Allbritton said. “This was a complete surprise.”
And in terms of Tampa Bay high-rises, Agami’s 470-foot project would be near the highest. One St. Petersburg on First Avenue North is that city’s tallest building at 450 feet, but the residential and office tower now under construction at 400 Central Ave. will beat it with 515 feet and 46 stories.
There are several buildings over 500 feet tall in Tampa. Clearwater, until now, has not seen that kind of height, even on Clearwater Beach.
But The Oaks’ parking lot near the downtown waterfront has long been seen “as one of the ground zero sites” for residential development, said Rob Boos, president of Clearwater-based Boos Development.
“Especially with that height, you’re looking at the Gulf of Mexico,” past Clearwater Harbor, Boos said. “It’s a hard set of views to get without having the beach traffic.”
Boos also noted the other major changes afoot in downtown. In June, the city completed the $84 million renovation of Coachman Park, creating an urban waterfront space that includes a 4,000-seat covered amphitheater.
The city is also still negotiating terms for Gotham Organization of New York and The DeNunzio Group of Pinellas County to bring a hotel and apartments to two parcels surrounding Coachman Park.
Prelude 80 resident Kim Davis said she knew the property next door would not stay a waterfront parking lot forever when she bought her condo four years ago.
“But we weren’t expecting something this massive,” said Davis, treasurer of the Prelude 80 homeowners association. “It’s going to stick out like a sore thumb.”
The neighbors also have environmental concerns about the construction that they were shocked to learn are permitted by city rules.
One condo is planned to be built 20 feet from the water, the minimum setback required by code.
According to plans, one of Agami’s condos would be built 5 feet from the Prelude 80 property line, the minimum required by code.
Agami’s proposal also includes two levels of underground parking. Especially in light of the 2021 Surfside condo collapse near Miami, Davis said residents are worried about how the construction of the towers and underground parking will impact the structural integrity of their 48-year-old building.
Agami did not respond to questions about building luxury condos on a coastline threatened by the realities of climate change and sea-level rise.
More than a third of the lot is in the “coastal storm area,” a designation for land prone to flooding. City code does not prohibit private development in that area but limits the density of projects.
“It’s not a shock that piece is being developed, but it’s a shock and disappointment that it’s at the scale it is,” said Gordon, the Prelude 80 neighbor. “And it’s possible the city will get it approved because there’s nothing in the city code stopping it.”