Broken parking garage promise may cause another referendum in Tarpon Springs
BY DEMORRIS A. LEE
TARPON SPRINGS — In 2008, the voters of this city agreed to sell a sliver of land next to Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital to a developer as long as the developer would build a parking garage and let the hospital use 100 spaces.
However, that referendum may have to be thrown out and a new referendum scheduled because the developer's city-approved site plan doesn't contain the parking garage.
The site plan calls instead for a surface parking lot alongside a 60,000-square-foot medical office building. That plan was approved by the City Commission in April, but it will have to be thrown out, too, because it doesn't match the voters' wishes.
Now, the Tarpon Springs City Commission is faced with scheduling another city-wide referendum to okay the surface parking lot.
Another option is for the developer and the hospital to agree not to use the .62-acre sliver of land in a new site plan.
With all of the previous votes and approvals now moot, "You have a clean playing field to make decisions that you think are right for your community," John Hubbard, one of Tarpon Springs' city attorneys, told commissioners at their Tuesday night meeting.
Hubbard sounded the alarm about the missing parking garage after the commission approved the site plan in April.
Hans Christian Beyer is the attorney for CRP II, the group that is developing Meres Town Center, a mixed-use development north of the hospital that was originally proposed to have a shopping center anchored by a Sweetbay Supermarket, a medical office complex, a 120-unit assisted living facility, a parking garage and 263 apartments. The Sweetbay shopping center is already open.
In a June 28 memo, Beyer said the economic climate forced a change in plans for the development.
Beyer said the project initially "contemplated" a five-story parking garage with 780 spaces at a cost of about $15 million. But because the economy forced a reduction in the size of the medical office complex, 500 fewer parking spaces are now needed.
In 2006, Tarpon voters approved the sale of 7.2 acres of city land to the developer. In 2008, they gave the Tarpon Springs Hospital Foundation permission to sell a .62-acre parcel it owned to the developer to ease access to the developer's planned medical building and parking garage — as long as the hospital could use 100 spaces in the garage.
The sales of those parcels have not been completed because the development of that phase of the Meres project has not begun.
The hospital foundation and CRP II are in discussions about how to resolve the issues surrounding the .62-acre plot. Beyer, the developer's attorney, suggested that CRP II could enter into an option to purchase the plot for $250,000, while awaiting the outcome of a citywide referendum.
But the hospital foundation was surprised by that $250,000 figure.
"The purchase price for this parcel has always been $500,000," said attorney Jeanette M. Flores, who represents the foundation.
Flores said the foundation would be willing to divide the $500,000 into two payments.
While the parties involved struggle to resolve the problems and figure out how to start over, one thing is clear, said Mayor David Archie.
"Our legal team should be there and the city manager should be involved if we are going to have a smooth process in resolving the differences," he said.