ST. PETERSBURG — Residents near Snell Isle Apartments say recent renovations have turned a former blight on the edge of Smacks Bayou into a well-maintained complex. But many fear a plan to add 50 boat slips will ruin the appearance of the waterfront and cause safety problems.
The complex on the tip of Eden Isle has 272 apartments in 16 buildings. They're priced between $800 and $1,700 per month.
Chicago-based Laramar Group bought the nearly vacant property in 2007 and has made nearly $10 million in renovations. The owners now propose to spend $840,000 to add 50 boat slips for residents.
"Boat slips for people who live on the water — to not get them would be a shame," said Laramar vice president Steve Boyack. "They should have the same access to the water as all the other homeowners enjoy."
But some residents of the surrounding neighborhood are wary. Robert Craven, a maritime lawyer, lives just down the street from the complex and has been negotiating with Laramar on the project's specifics.
"You're going to basically have a marina here," he said. "If they put in what they're talking about, they just cover (the waterfront). You're not going to be able to see it."
The proposal will go before the city's Development Review Commission on Aug. 5. The panel can accept or reject the plan, or it can ask for more information.
Craven and Shore Acres Civic Association president Chris Dailey met with Laramar executives multiple times about the proposal.
The original plan called for 65 slips. Owners agreed to lower that to 50 and cluster them so they don't reduce the width of a key channel in Smacks Bayou. The new proposal also includes lifts that would protect the boats and reduce the amount of waves in the area.
"They have made some concessions," Dailey said. "To put in lifts, that was never part of any of their proposals. That's an expensive undertaking."
Dailey said most of the houses that sit on the bayou have about 100 feet of waterfront and include one dock. He proposed a 15-slip plan for Snell Isle Apartments, consistent with the standard of one dock per 100 feet of waterfront.
Boyack said the proposal falls well under zoning codes for apartments and that following a single-family home standard would be unreasonable.
"We spent the better part of four to six months meeting back and forth," he said. "I feel like we came up with a plan that is the neighborhood's as much as ours."
Besides aesthetic concerns, Craven said so much extra boat traffic could cause extra congestion and force people to lower speeds to avoid accidents.
"They were willing to meet with us," he said. "We're just on two ends of what is a reasonable use of the property."
In 2005, a condo developer bought the complex and forced the residents out. He went bankrupt shortly afterward and the apartments sat vacant for more than a year.
Manager Brian Stroud said Laramar "stripped everything down to the studs" and replaced all of the cabinets, fixtures and appliances.
"When I showed up in August of '07, I stood in a vacant parking lot with a bunch of red V's on all the doors," he said. "It was absolutely nuts."
Laramar also added new landscaping and installed amenities such as hammocks, grills, a putting green and a volleyball court.
"It looks 100 percent better," said Dailey, whose house is just across the bayou from the apartments. "Up until last year, it was an absolute dump. They have done a fabulous job; I have to give them credit for that."
Jennifer Helsel relocated from Ocala to Snell Isle Apartments in April. She especially enjoys the outdoor activities at the complex. She plans to buy a boat once the slips are constructed.
"Having the boat slips there will give us more opportunities to be out on the water," she said. "It's nice to have the boat there, already in the water."