ST. PETERSBURG — After more than two years of planning and strong opposition from neighbors, boat docks were finally approved Wednesday for the Snell Isle Club Apartments.
In August, area residents crowded the Development Review Commission meeting room to protest a plan to build 50 boat slips in Smacks Bayou.
At issue were concerns over protected sea grasses, the length of one of the docks, the appearance of a marina in a primarily residential neighborhood, and the overall impact of increased boating activity.
"It would be a visual blight," said Christopher Dailey, then-president of the Shore Acres Civic Association.
The DRC listened and rejected the proposal.
The Laramar Group, the Chicago-based owners of the rental apartment complex, filed a court appeal but delayed the case until August, hoping that the city would consider a revised plan.
On Wednesday, Laramar appeared again before the DRC, but this time with the support of two neighborhood associations and verbal opposition from only a handful of residents.
The redesigned boat docks addressed many of the issues cited in the 228-page public comment file assembled by the DRC.
"That Eden Isle and Shore Acres (civic associations) no longer oppose this means a lot. It is very powerful," said commissioner Sharon Heal-Eichler.
The owners had planned to propose 44 boat slips, but when neighbors continued to oppose the plan, April and May DRC hearings were postponed while negotiations continued.
The final difference from a year ago is 10 boat slips. The 40 boat slips that were approved will be spread out over eight docks to reduce the "marina look" and will not extend as far into the bayou as originally planned.
Dock D, originally 203 feet long, was cut by more than half to 89 feet. Two additional docks were added and the total dock square footage was reduced by 18 percent. A grated decking surface will minimize sea grass shading.
In addition, three existing piers used by the apartment residents will be removed.
Each slip will have a boat lift and will be used exclusively by residents of the apartment complex and will not be rented out or sold to outside boaters, according to Doug Manson, attorney for the Laramar Group.
"Laramar, you have worked so hard. It is fantastic you have come into the neighborhood and really worked with them. I really commend you. There are a lot of developers that don't do that," said commissioner Ann Vickstrom.
The 272-unit apartment complex was originally built in the 1960s. Since taking over the complex several years ago, the Laramar Group has spent $11 million to "transform it into a luxury waterfront rental community," according to Laramar spokesman Steve Boyack.
Actual construction of the docks will not occur until the plan is approved by Pinellas County, as well as federal and state agencies, and a state submerged land lease is issued. Also, if those future approvals require expansion of the dock area, the project must come back to the DRC for review and approval.