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Westminster Shores, neighbors reach accord

ST. PETERSBURG — Neighbors and the owners of Westminster Shores have reached an agreement about redevelopment plans for the waterfront retirement community, ending a three-year battle at City Hall and in the courts.

Original redevelopment plans for Westm inster Shores, overlooking Little Bayou and Tampa Bay, called for six buildings of five to seven stories and one of two stories.

Neighbors objected, saying the proposed structures were too tall and massive and would block their waterfront views, hurt property values and be out of character in their community of single-family homes.

Residents also balked at living next to a construction project that promised to go on for many years.

In the agreement hammered out in recent months, the highest building of eight in the Mediterranean revival style project will be six stories.

Three will be five stories, two will be four stories, and one each will be three and two stories.

An extra building was added since current plans call for shorter structures.

Neighbors' waterfront views will not be blocked, and concessions have been made to lessen the impact of the seven-phase, 20-year construction project.

The new plan is scheduled to go before St. Petersburg's Development Review Commission today and to the City Council on Thursday.

In a written statement, Presbyterian Retirement Communities — which does business as Westminster Communities of Florida — said it is "delighted'' with the agreement reached with city staff and neighbors.

Neighborhood groups — Bahama Shores, Bayou Bonita, Coquina Key and Greater Pinellas Point — are pleased, said Will Michaels, a member of the residents committee that negotiated with the retirement community.

"We feel very positive about the agreement which has been reached. We think that Westminster Shores has been very attentive to the concerns and ideas of the neighbors, in the last six months in particular,'' said Michaels, who also is vice president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations and has lived in Bahama Shores for 25 years.

"We think it reflects both the interests of the neighborhoods and addressed the need for growth and development at Westminster Shores itself . … The development is much flatter. It fits much better into the surrounding neighborhood.''

The agreement will remain in place for 20 years, even if the property is sold.

Under the compromise, the six-story building will be farthest from the Bahama Shores neighborhood.

Another building that would have been six stories has been reduced to four stories and will be situated 75 feet back from Little Bayou, in keeping with new land development regulations.

A loading dock will no longer face 56th Avenue S, and landscaping will screen it from the street.

Among other issues, the agreement also gives neighborhood residents use of the walkway along the bay and Little Bayou and will keep 56th Avenue and the northern end of Bahama Shores open to the public.

The dispute began in 2005, when the owners of Westminster Shores, at 125 56th Ave. S, announced plans for an $82-million redevelopment project to be completed in 2021.

The city's Board of Adjustment approved the plan, but residents successfully appealed the decision in Circuit Court.

In 2007, Westminster Communities submitted a new plan to the city, proposing a $19-million six-story residential building with 40 units and common facilities.

The building would have been nearly 100,000 square feet and built between the Bahama Shores and Bonita Bayou neighborhoods.

It also would have been 40 feet from Little Bayou.

The Environmental Development Commission approved the plan, but residents appealed and the EDC decision was overturned by the City Council.

Westminster Communities appealed the city's decision in court and called for a special magistrate to mediate the disagreement.

"The city brought us into the discussions,'' said Paul C. Scherer, a resident and lawyer who represented the neighborhoods in the court actions.

"Then we went back and forth and finally came to an agreement that was acceptable to the neighborhood associations.''

The two sides began meeting seriously about six months ago, leading to the current agreement finalized in a session with the mediator this year.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

>>FAST FACTS

About Westminster Communities

of Florida

Started 54 years ago by First Presbyterian Church in Bradenton and later spun off as a nonprofit organization. It owns 20 retirement communities in Florida, including three in St. Petersburg: Westminster Shores near the Bahama Shores neighborhood, Westminster Suncoast in Pinellas Point, and Westminster Palms in downtown St. Petersburg.

About Westminster Shores

Featured in the 1980s movie Cocoon, it covers about 26 acres and has 133 units, including apartments and single-family homes. There are about 275 residents and 74 assisted-living units.

Westminster Shores, neighbors reach accord 04/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 3, 2008 3:41pm]
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