Last week Greg Powers was in Waterfront Park when he encountered a woman conducting what appeared to be a survey. In conversation with her he learned about a potential new pier possibly being constructed that would contain approximately 70 boat slips. This concerned him, which prompted him to attend a town hall meeting held last Tuesday, March 8 at the Clermont Civic Center regarding the Eighth Street Pier project.
“I think the lake is beautiful as it is,” Powers said, indicating he was not in favor of the possible proposed pier.
He would not be the only person to express similar sentiment at the town hall meeting that was heavily attended, filling nearly two-thirds of the seating available. However, those who wished to speak would have to wait until two PowerPoint presentations had been made, beginning with Clermont City Manager Brian Bulthuis challenging his audience what do they think whenever Clermont’s name is mentioned.
“What is that vision that comes to mind,” he rhetorically asked, because he did not wait for a response. The “vision” was the reason for the town hall meeting, which was to “continue the vision you, the citizens, started.”
From there he (pun intended) launched into what the meeting was intended to be about, and it was not going to focus solely on a proposed pier and dock slips. He urged everyone to bear in mind that what was about to be presented was just the beginning stages, and it would not just be only the pier, but a proposal for the entire section where the current pier is located.
“If we’re on a 100 step journey, we’re at step five,” he said. It would be a point raised several more times in the course of the evening.
The situation began in 2022, when following an inspection, the current dock was closed, as it did not meet current safety codes. When first constructed it supported 40 per square foot (psf) of pressure. Today’s requirement is 100 psf.
As with anything the city undertakes, the question and concern is what might it cost and where are the funds going to come from. Because the proposed project is new, there currently is $3 million available, which does not come from the General Fund. Recreational Impact Fees, however, cannot be used unless a project is new. However, the city manager pointed out, the $3 million could lead to other sources of funding, including grants.
For a project to succeed, the city will need to partner with downtown, and one of the first things Bulthuis did was connect with Jeff Powell, of Powell Studio Architecture, a Clermont-based firm. Powell is a fourth generation Clermont/Groveland resident, who remembers when the population of Clermont was slightly more than just 5,000 people.
“I love this community and I don’t want to live anywhere else,” said Powell, who added Clermont’s growth is due in great measure because “the community came together.”
Before he began his presentation, he reiterated Bulthuis, that what was about to be presented in his PowerPoint presentation was just concepts, and that while what would be revealed was only going with the “Big Idea.” Powell emphasized this several times more and then began the presentation.
Because Clermont is in the middle section of a Florida’s Coast-to-Coast Trail, a 275 mile pathway from St. Petersburg to Titusville, currently under construction, Clermont has trademarked “Meet Us in the Middle Plaza.”
The development would include a number of attractions and amenities, one that would save many trees, make it easier for pedestrians to access it through tiered levels, all the while improving sightlines of lake views.
Included in the presentation was a possible design of what a pier might look like, including the suggestion that the current pier be demolished and the new pier moved to a centralized location of the plaza. Again, Powell urged attendees that what had just been presented were just concepts.
“Hopefully, this may get you excited,” he said. “It does me.”
First to respond was Cathy Kyle. She did not favor the pier and dock.
“What we see are our lakes being overrun,” she said. What was needed was for the city to step on the brakes. She made mention that in the past she has asked the city to impose a larger boat dock fee and imposing a beach parking fee. However, she did like the artistic renderings of the plaza. “It’s a beautiful plan, but I don’t know if I want 76 docks.”
Boyd Davis, who immediately followed Kyle, called a proposed 76 dock slips an accident waiting to happen.
“All those docks,” he asked. “Not a big fan.”
He also expressed concern about aquatic plants being ripped out, and other people who followed echoed similar concerns.
Among those was Charlene Ford, who constantly addresses members of city hall with stinging rebukes in none-too-polite terms at city agenda meetings; she was no different this time, either. Her first words were what she heard made her want to vomit. Her primary concern was her fear the lake’s quality would be degraded, especially as she has been a member of several lake NGOs.
Libby Hannah voiced a similar concern, as well as what she termed the natural beauty of the area.
Others wanted more emphasis placed on activities more environmentally friendly, which included kayaks, paddleboards and small sailboats, with slips for kayaks.
Another objection voiced was that the project was being rushed, that it needed more planning.
There were strong advocates for both the proposed new pier and the plaza. With one exception, those who spoke mentioned they are downtown merchants. The one person who is not a downtown merchant who spoke in favor was Otis Taylor, who heads the Give a Day Foundation.
“A visionary is what we need,” said Taylor. “You have a choice. We can make Clermont what we want it to be.” He closed by commended those involved.
After all who wanted to speak was completed, Bulthuis, Powell, Scott Davidoff (assistant city manager), and outside consultant Wayne Booth responded to some concerns.
Chief among the concerns addressed was that of lake vegetation. There is a significant lack, especially in the middle of the lake.
“Tannic water is a major reason why vegetation is what it is,” Booth said.
Tannic water is created when leaves, grasses, pine needles, and other organic matter falls into the water. The matter breaks down over time, giving the water that tea-stained look.
He also emphasized this was going to be a long, drawn out process, with one reason being that in addition to a number of county and state regulations, also involved with the Army Corps of Engineers.
Bulthuis had the last words, boiling down the purpose of the town hall meeting, and why.
“Do you like the concept,” he asked. He added that the issue began with the closing of the current pier. “The easiest thing for me to do would have been to say, tear it down. But is that what the citizens want?”