LARGO — The neighbors thought there was nothing they could do to stop the apartment complex from being built, that handshakes behind closed doors had sealed the deal.
They were wrong. Plans for a 260-unit apartment complex along Seminole Boulevard are on hold after neighbors complained at a Pinellas Planning Council meeting that they had few details about the project.
Last week, Largo city commissioners voted to allow the city staff and developer Steve McConihay to negotiate a development agreement, which will allow for more community input and require more details upfront.
The apartment complex is proposed for 2098 Seminole Blvd., the site of Briarwood Travel Villas, a 138-space RV park on 14 acres just north of Ulmerton Road.
In November, the City Commission approved a land use change allowing McConihay to move forward with his plans, despite hearing neighbors' complaints similar to those raised before the Pinellas Planning Council, like concerns that apartment towers would block sunlight or the buildings would damage wetlands.
"I guess they were overwhelmed with the community outrage," said Barry Chase, president of a homeowners association for the nearby Coastal Ridge neighborhood. Chase wondered why city officials didn't require McConihay to complete a development agreement to begin with.
The development agreement process will require more details from McConihay before the City Commission votes — building height, setbacks from neighboring properties, parking and, potentially, conceptual drawings.
McConihay said he has no problem going through the development agreement process.
"We'll address their concerns," he said of neighbors of the RV park, which he bought last March for $1.25 million, according to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office. "We're not going to block their sunlight."
Negotiations between the city staff and McConihay should begin shortly. He hopes to break ground in 2015.
"We're going to build apartments that will blend so well into the community they probably won't even notice them," McConihay said. "This will all get done in two years, and everyone's concerns will be taken care of."
Also at Tuesday's commission meeting:
• Commissioners increased the homestead property tax exemption for low-income seniors from the current $15,000 to $25,000. Those interested in finding out if they qualify should call the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office at (727) 464-3294. The appraiser's office did not supply Largo with an estimate of what the new exemption will cost the city in revenue. The $15,000 exemption cost Largo $83,171 in tax revenue in 2012.
• The commission approved a new two-year collective bargaining agreement with the union that represents Largo police, the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association. Union members barely ratified the new contract the week before, by a vote of 33-31, indicating unrest among officers over a contract that doesn't offer raises in fiscal 2013. The contract does allow for the union to ask for raises in 2014, and Sun Coast PBA executive director Michael Krohn says his union will definitely make that request.
"We're not blind to the economic conditions, but we're also not blind to the financial situation of the city," Krohn said. "There is money; they're just projecting out five to seven years and getting worried."
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.