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Concerns still surround revised Safety Harbor development proposal

SAFETY HARBOR — If it's not too tall, it's too ugly. It's too many people. It's too much traffic. It's too much spreading of commercial development.

Seeking to buy a 35-acre parcel to build apartments and office space, a development company reworked its proposal after initial backlash to the large scale of the project. But at a Monday night workshop, city commissioners picked apart the new alternatives.

The proposal has so far failed to garner wholesale support, as each commissioner has named different sticking points that make them uncomfortable with it.

Still, after an hour and a half of criticism, development associate Damon Kolb from the Richman Group of Florida said the workshop provided helpful feedback.

"We didn't hear 'no,' " he said.

The property where the complex would be developed has been dormant, the former home of the Firmenich Citrus Center at McMullen-Booth Road and State Road 590.

Developers have battled through several tough meetings since October. After commissioners denounced the four-story apartment complex as too tall, developers created new site plans to show what they were envisioning.

"We will work with you," Kolb repeated throughout the Monday presentation.

"We're not hiding behind land-use attorneys," he said. "We're not meeting with you privately, trying to do something behind the scenes."

The alternative ideas featured a slight decrease in the number of proposed luxury apartment units, down to 276 from the initial 296. The plans increased tree buffers and clustered taller buildings toward the center of the parcel, to lessen the effect on surrounding neighborhoods. One option could bring building heights down from four stories to three.

Commissioners Nancy Besore and Cliff Merz were still bothered by the size of the apartment complex.

"Obviously, we would like to get, quite frankly, as many units as we can," Kolb said, with a bit of an uncomfortable chuckle, "but still respecting the adjacent residences."

Because this project requires a change in the zoning of the property from its current industrial status to multifamily residential and commercial, the commission can dictate some terms of the development agreement.

Some people have scoffed at the suggestion that an active industrial use there would be less compatible for the neighborhood than the proposed apartment complex.

Kolb's presentation still noted that the industrial buildings on the site are taller than his company's proposed development and that an industrial site could yield potentially higher traffic levels.

"Regardless of what happens with us, you guys have 16 acres of industrial there," Kolb said.

Later, Besore said, "I'm not afraid of the big bad industrial wolf."

Commissioners began questioning the commercial section of the development and seemed interested in limiting the types of businesses that could move in. Returning to his first trepidations about the project, Mayor Andy Steingold opposed the idea of letting commercial areas creep farther north on McMullen-Booth Road.

He also worried over potential backups at the entry and exit driveways of the complex. Most commissioners shared the fear of adding traffic to an already heavily traveled intersection. Other concerns included the possible intrusion on neighbors, minimizing the look of the buildings and preserving privacy.

Residents did not have an opportunity to comment during the workshop. If developers decide to proceed, the proposal could go to a Dec. 17 public hearing. The city has asked developers to authorize a traffic study before the meeting.

"There is a lot of angst," Besore told developers. "This is a huge change for us. It's a revolutionary change."

She compared the process to buying a car, saying she felt she was offered the worst deal first. Now, she wondered how far she could negotiate it down.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or swang@tampabay.com.

Concerns still surround revised Safety Harbor development proposal 11/22/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 22, 2012 6:40pm]
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