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Safety Harbor homeowner sues city, Pinellas County over zoning change

William Turkali, 73, says Safety Harbor and the county have, in effect, prevented him from selling his home to condo developers.

JIM DAMASKE | Times (2007)

William Turkali, 73, says Safety Harbor and the county have, in effect, prevented him from selling his home to condo developers.

SAFETY HARBOR — Big government doesn't intimidate William Turkali.

For the last four years, the 73-year-old Safety Harbor resident has fought to protect his home's zoning designation and its worth.

He's spoken out at City Commission meetings.

He's railed against a proposed change at Pinellas County Commission sessions.

"The property is valuable," Turkali said. "It's a big house."

Now he's taking Safety Harbor and Pinellas County to court over a March 2009 zoning amendment that he says devalued the property and hindered efforts to sell it.

"The adoption by the city, and approval by the county, of the (Safety Harbor) Downtown Master Plan was a specific action of government entities which has inordinately burdened an existing use of, and vested right in, real property," Turkali's attorney, Lee Atkinson, said in a suit filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court. "The property owner is entitled to compensation for the actual loss of the fair market value."

Turkali was the beneficiary of a zoning change in 1992. At the time, his S Bayshore Boulevard home was zoned residential. Safety Harbor asked him if he wanted that designation changed to retail, office and service, a move that would create a substantial increase in the value of the property and would allow for lucrative development. Turkali, who bought the waterfront home in 1983, accepted the offer. In an instant, he said, the value of the property shot up to $800,000.

Then in 2006, the city decided to change the area around Turkali's home back to residential. They also recommended a 25-foot height restriction to maintain the city's small-town feel.

"Our actions were for the common good of our community," Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold said.

Turkali went to the County Commission — the ultimate authority over the changes — and argued such moves would prevent future sales to condo developers, torpedoing the property's value.

Twice, county commissioners rejected Safety Harbor's updated community redevelopment plan — in large part because of Turkali's complaints. A year ago, they approved a revised version that would allow a developer to build no higher than 35 feet.

"There's no reason for me to stay there," Turkali said in a telephone interview Wednesday from another home he maintains in north Georgia. "My wife and I love the area and we have family there. I don't intend to move out of Pinellas County. I intend to buy something else."

His suit comes as no surprise to city or county officials. Atkinson, Turkali's attorney, put them on notice last summer when he filed claims against Safety Harbor and Pinellas County. He said when the city and county reinstated the residential designation, it devalued Turkali's home by $435,000. The county, Atkinson said, is responsible for $50,000 of that amount. The city is responsible for the rest.

Lawyers for the city and the county have said the claims are baseless.

"Your client has the right to use the property for residential purposes, which is its current use," attorney James Yacavone wrote in the city's Dec. 16 response to Atkinson. "Thus, the city has not burdened an 'actual, present use' of the property (or) any reasonably forseeable land uses."

The county will ask the court to dismiss the suit next month, records show.

"It cannot be said that Pinellas County 'caused' an inordinate burdening of Mr. Turkali's property," assistant county attorney John E. Schaefer wrote in a Dec. 15, 2009, response to Atkinson. "Pinellas County only approved a resolution (requested by the city) and itself took no specific action as to this property."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Safety Harbor homeowner sues city, Pinellas County over zoning change 03/31/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 8:04pm]
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