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Residents hoping to reach compromise with developers on Old Southeast marina project

By Melissa Gomez, Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Developers of a marina project in the Old Southeast are reviewing and adjusting plans after residents rallied against a 54-foot high and dry proposal.

The building, which was set to go up in the Salt Creek Marine District, faced criticism from residents who said they weren’t properly notified by the developers, Santa Fe Boatyard, about the complex.

Residents of Old Southeast expressed concern over the proposed height of the building and other aspects of the plan during a Development Review Commission meeting in early November. The meeting was part of the process for the developers to move forward and get their plan approved. But after residents and a neighboring business owner raised issues about not being made aware of the changes, and the safety concerns over the amount of traffic it would bring to Salt Creek, the commission granted the developers a 60-day deferment to modify its plan for the lot at 107 15th Ave. SE.

The commission agreed it would like to see changes in the plan that showed Old Southeast residents’ participation, discussions between business owners and the developer, a study on how the project will impact traffic flow, calculations on parking, how it will impact boat traffic in Salt Creek, additional landscaping and the building’s appearance.

City staff, which reviews projects to ensure they are within city codes, recommended the commission approve the plan. According to a staff report, the project included a 62,790-square-foot high and dry with 400 boat slips, and a 5,000-square-foot retail and a 2,500-square-foot marina building. The project included 22 wet slips, 81 parking spaces and a West Indies/Key West architecture theme.

The road leading to the area is the only way in and out of the marine district, with the Old Southeast neighborhood just south of it. A concern that was raised by many was how a busy weekend could transform the streets into parking lots.

Another major concern was the number of boat slips. A partner of the project said it was unlikely the 422 boat slips would be filled, which wouldn’t cause as much boat and land traffic as residents speculated. They were hoping to attract about 200 power boats and attract larger boats, like mega yachts, he said.

Brian Hartley, another partner on the project who has a track record of working on environmentally friendly projects in the area, said they were looking into options to reduce the number.

"We are looking forward to meeting with the neighborhood association and fellow marinas in addressing their concerns while still maintaining the objectives of the St. Petersburg Downtown Waterfront Master Plan," he said in a statement.

Tess Chibirka, who presented a petition signed by residents opposed to the project, said they had concerns about the height and felt they didn’t have an opportunity to address the developers about it.

"No one came to us to talk about this, frankly monstrosity of a building, which looks like it will take up the size of a city block," she said.

Max Houck, vice president of the Old Southeast Neighborhood Association, said the organization isn’t against development in the area. But the project presented issues like insufficient reports on how extra traffic might impact the surrounding area and the high and dry building’s height.

"We feel like we’ve been left out of this conversation and want to engage to get answers to the questions we pose," he said. "We support growth and improvements in our community, but not at expense of our community."

Commissioners said they were convinced the project may need more work after hearing from Gerard "Gerry" Douglas, manager and vice president of Catalina Yachts, which neighbors the property.

He called on Hartley to explain why the proposed project still had the building pushing up against the lot line bordering his company’s property. They had agreed it was incorrect during a private discussion, Douglas said, yet they were proposing the same plan.

There was also a concern of a lack of parking spaces, Douglas said. Typically, marina regulations ask for a parking space for every four boat slips. Eighty-one parking spaces for 422 boat slips, which averages to five boat slips, doesn’t seem reasonable, he said. In an email, Hartley said they’ll be working toward a resolution with Douglas.

"I want to see this thing work, but it’s got to be right," Douglas said.

Contact Melissa Gomez at [email protected] Follow @melissagomez004.