Hurdles continue for St. Petersburg's Bliss luxury condo project

St. Petersburg will hear an appeal by a nearby condo owner, who is being sued by the tower's developer.
Published March 30 2015
Updated March 30 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — Bliss, the 18-story luxury condo tower planned for downtown St. Petersburg, faces at least two more hurdles in its already bumpy road to fruition.

On Thursday, City Council members will hear an appeal by a condo owner in the nearby Parkshore Plaza who alleges that Bliss still violates the city's comprehensive land-use plan despite recent modifications to the project.

And Bliss' developer is suing the Parkshore owner, claiming that his "interference'' has jeopardized financing for the 204-foot tower.

The bottom line: It could be months before construction starts, even though all but three of Bliss' 29 units have been presold at prices ranging from $680,000 to $1.21 million.

Almost since it was announced in June, Bliss has sparked controversy because of its proposed location on a slim rectangle of land at 176 Fourth Ave. NE, just off bustling Beach Drive. The city's Development Review Commission and city council both approved plans despite criticism that Bliss was too big for the site and would include an unusual, untested car elevator to transport vehicles to their parking spaces.

Under developer Brian Taub's initial plans, access to the elevator would have been via an east-west alley also used by residents of Parkshore Plaza. The Parkshore condo association sued the city in January, claiming that cars waiting to get on the elevator would clog the busy alley and create a safety hazard.

In a separate lawsuit, Michael Levy, co-owner of a Parkshore condo, alleged that Bliss would exceed the maximum "floor area ratio'' allowed for a residential building in that part of downtown. (The ratio measures a building's gross floor area divided by the area of the site on which the building sits.)

Levy's suit contends that Bliss' "excessively large scale relative to its small building lot'' would devalue his ninth-floor unit, whose view of Tampa Bay would be partially blocked by the 18-story Bliss.

On March 4, the review commission approved Taub's revised plans, which moved access to the car elevator to a north-south alley out of the way of Parkshore residents. The commission also found that Bliss' 4.0 ratio complied — just barely — with the city's comprehensive plan.

Levy, however, appealed to the City Council, which will hear the matter at its 9 a.m. Thursday meeting. City staffers have recommended denial of his appeal.

"Levy's complaint is baseless,'' Taub says in his suit against the Parkshore resident. "Levy filed the complaint in an attempt to delay and frustrate Bliss. Levy objects to Bliss because it will block his view. However, under Florida law, he has no entitlement to a view.''

In his suit, Taub said he had obtained bank financing for Bliss, though it was contingent on the city's approval not being appealed.

"Levy knew that Taub would not be able to construct the project if the (appeal) were filed but chose to go forward,'' the suit says.

Records show that Levy and Jeffry Von Wald bought their Parkshore condo in 2011 for $652,500. They do not have a homestead on the unit, now valued at $719,000, and their property tax bills are sent to an address in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Despite any threat to financing, Taub Entities closed March 3 on the purchase of the Bliss site from artist P. Buckley Moss for $3.5 million. In January, Taub got a permit to demolish Moss' former gallery, though it remains standing.

Moss, who now lives in Virginia, took back a $2.5 million mortgage.

Taub has also started the process to get a building permit. Even if the City Council approves the plans and pending litigation is resolved, it still could take three or more months for the plans to be reviewed by the city's zoning, engineering, building and fire departments, city officials said Monday.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

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