BELLEAIR — The Belleair Town Commission has given Morton Plant Hospital the green light to build a 1.8-acre parking lot on the corner of Druid Place and Druid Road S. Four homes, all owned by the hospital, will be razed for the project.
And even though the new parking lot will abut the back yards of some Belleair homeowners, the affected residents gave it their blessings. Chalk that up to compromise, a little extra green space and some backyard extensions.
Things weren't always this rosy.
In October, after neighboring residents complained they didn't want a parking lot so close to their homes, Belleair commissioners denied an application by the hospital to build the lot. The hospital promptly filed a lawsuit.
But when hospital officials and concerned neighbors got together for some discussions, a settlement was reached, so Tuesday, a revised plan was before the commissioners.
Resident Tim Mariani, one of those who opposed the original site plan, spoke at the commission meeting.
"Those who have worked with me have withdrawn their objections to this issue and are supporting this application tonight," Mariani said.
The agreement gives the hospital 98 additional parking spaces and provides the residents with a host of benefits.
It certainly trumps going to court, Mariani said. (The hospital has agreed to drop the lawsuit with approval of the new site plan.)
"In a perfect world, no doubt, we would not be going through this process and (the land) would remain residential," Mariani said. "And in a perfect world, the hospital would have a lot of land to expand their excellent medical services."
Key details of the re-design include:
• The hospital will convey 30 feet of land to adjacent property owners that reside on Ricker Road. A 112-foot green space buffer area will be created.
• Power lines will be moved to reflect the new property lines and will be placed underground.
• An 8-foot-high wall will be constructed along the entire south side of the property to shield the parking area from the Ricker Road lots.
• A 30-foot buffer will be constructed along Druid Road S.
• Landscaping with native trees and shrubbery will help separate the parking lot from the nearest neighbors.
• The new parking will be accessed from the hospital's main parking lot only.
In addition, the hospital will:
• Execute deed restrictions to limit the lot's use to surface parking or residential, with no further encroachment.
• Proceed with redeveloping the Siples parking area across the street and include a landscape buffer on the south 40 feet of that property.
Residents of Ricker Road whose property backs up to the new parking lot will see their property line extended by 30 feet. Ricker Road resident Bob Cullen was upbeat about the additional property he'll get and the other parts of the compromise.
"The hospital did do a lot to make us happy," he said.
But his neighbor, Mary Sikorra, who lives on Ricker Road, wasn't quite so sure about the deal.
"At first I was excited about getting the additional 30 feet, then I suddenly realized I'll have more yard work and probably more taxes," she said.
Commissioners unanimously approved the new parking lot plan.
Commissioner Michael Wilkinson thanked the hospital and neighbors for working together.
"I think in a perfect world, Morton Plant wouldn't need this and I guess in a perfect world we wouldn't need a hospital," he said to chuckles from the audience.
In other news, the Town Commission is considering the future of the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club. The closing on the town's purchase of the property is scheduled for Feb. 8 and the commission isn't exactly sure what to do with the club.
Assistant Town Manager J.P. Murphy outlined a number of possibilities:
• The town could own and operate the course — not a good option, as this golf course is losing between $180,000 to $220,000 a year, Murphy said.
• The town could hire a third party to manage the property, but the city would own the property and carry all the risk.
• The town could lease the property to an operator who would take over operations and retain most or all the profits, if any. "It mitigates some of the risks, but not all of the risks," Murphy said.
• The town could sell the course after restricting the development rights.
• The town could keep the course as an open space for stormwater management.
Belleair decided to purchase the golf course for $3.5 million as a way to protect the future development rights. The course is a recharge area for groundwater, and homeowners who live around it don't want to lose their views of the gently rolling grounds to a developer.