PALM HARBOR — Despite their earlier objections, Pinellas County officials now support allowing a controversial park shelter roof to be built nearly 10 feet taller than was initially advertised.
The county's Development Review Services Department Friday recommended that the Board of Adjustment allow the completion of a roof partially constructed at the Sunderman recreational complex.
The recommendation stunned two neighbors who live next to the park.
"You've got to be kidding me," said Martin Del Monte, whose house is immediately across Delaware Avenue from the structure. "That's just absurd."
His next-door neighbor Patty Carvella agreed.
"It's just way, way bigger, more enormous, taller, more massive," she said. She worries about noise bouncing off the metal roof into the neighborhood.
The Board of Adjustment is scheduled to consider the recommendation at a public hearing at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Last month, Pinellas County officials asked Palm Harbor Recreation to halt construction on the half-built, open-sided shelter over a roller hockey rink at Sunderman park.
The reason: the $461,000 project is taller than the Board of Adjustment allowed when it approved the project in September. At that hearing, plus an earlier one in June, a contractor for the Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation Department told the board that the roof would be 22 to 25 feet high.
County development review officials first told the Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation Department — which is overseen by the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency — that it had three choices: remove the building, lower the roof to 25 feet or seek approval for the building from the Board of Adjustment.
Palm Harbor recreation officials first said they didn't want to do any of the three, but later agreed to another hearing before the Board of Adjustment.
The county staff's recommendation comes with four conditions, three of which have already been met. The site plan has already been reviewed and existing lights have been removed.
A third condition specifies that the roof be no higher than 34 feet, 3 inches, its current height. The height condition was overlooked in documents resulting from the last Board of Adjustment meeting where board members approved the roof after hearing it would be, at most, 25 feet tall.
A fourth condition would require a new landscape plan, providing more screening, and that plan will require further approval.
Carvella said she didn't think "what they plan to do will be enough," but other neighbors were not as surprised.
"Of course," said Nolle Nance, an architect who lives on Prior Place. "I would have expected that."
A great deal of county grant money has gone into the roof, and county officials have to protect the decisions their employees have made, Nance said. He did question the qualifications a recreation director might have for hiring a contractor to build a roof.
"It seems like the county should assist in carrying that out," he said.
Palm Harbor parks and recreation director Rick Burton said he's been optimistic from the start.
"They say there are de facto conditions (that roof should have been 25 feet tall, no more) and we don't necessarily agree with that," he said. "But we're trying to be cooperative."
Burton says he has many supporters, kids and adults looking forward to using the multipurpose recreational space for roller hockey and basketball. This week, his administrative assistant sent an e-mail asking parents interested in sports to go to the Board of Adjustment hearing.
"My director will be attending the meeting in April and would like for you and your children to attend if possible to show your support for the community," Erica Lynford wrote. "If your child played hockey and has a jersey please have them wear it."
David Mayer, who lives on Prior Place, said the e-mail was a slick maneuver.
"I think that's just sort of loading the audience," he said. "The kids are going to come and say 'Yes, yes, it's great.' But they don't really live in the area."
On Friday, Burton defended the e-mail.
"What's the difference between me asking for support when (Del Monte) is asking for support from the community?" he said. "I don't see the difference between the two."
Times staff writer Theresa Blackwell can be reached at
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