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Decision on Palm Harbor hockey rink roof to be appealed

PALM HARBOR — Too tall? On the contrary, a roof under construction over a hockey rink is just right, Palm Harbor officials say.

And they plan to press that case in court.

The Palm Harbor Community Services Agency decided this week to appeal a recent setback to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.

This month, the Pinellas County Board of Adjustment declined to give retroactive approval for the building to stand at 34 feet, 3 inches — about 10 feet taller than the board had approved in earlier hearings.

That left Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation, which is independent from the county and is overseen by the Community Services Agency, with three options: tear the nearly-built roof down, lower it to 25 feet or appeal the board's decision in circuit court.

"I don't think we have any other alternative" than to appeal, agency chairman John Myers said. "I think we've done everything by the book."

The roof would shelter a playing area for roller hockey and basketball in the Sunderman recreation complex. It's expected to cost $461,000 in public funds, much of it already spent.

The height issue was not even in the mix when the Board of Adjustment approved the structure last year, Myers said.

But Palm Harbor recreation officials have acknowledged that their contractor, Phil Phillips, was "nervous" and said the roof would be no taller than 25 feet at Board of Adjustment hearings last year.

Myers still wonders why the board nixed the roof at the present height.

"It's beyond my comprehension," he said. "We had approved plans, permits and construction was under way."

Building plans called for a roof more than 34 feet tall, but the Board of Adjustment did not see detailed plans at last year's hearings for a variance to build within a setback from the road.

The county document approving the variance did not restrict the roof height. Instead, the main issue listed was landscaping to screen neighbors' view of the roof.

But because a building height of 22 to 25 feet was discussed at two public hearings, it became a "de facto" condition of approval, county officials say.

Neighbors close to the roof, like Martin Del Monte, who lives across Delaware Avenue from the park, are incensed that the roof rose so much higher than approved. They say an industrial-looking structure of monstrous proportions doesn't belong in their neighborhood.

"I can't even imagine how they would win this thing," Del Monte said Friday when he heard about the appeal. "But I guess they've got so much into it at this point that they are just going to throw some more money at it, spend more of the taxpayer's money."

Maybe it's like the gambling concept called "escalation of commitment," he said. Gamblers redouble their efforts when losing because they think their turn to win must be coming, he said. But they just keep losing.

"If you wanted to do the taxpayers a favor," he said, "you could just cut your losses and call it quits."

The county tries to work with the parties involved and find alternatives for solving problems like the Palm Harbor roof, said David Sadowsky, the county's attorney for the Board of Adjustment.

"This is very rare, for someone to file a suit," he said.

The too-tall roof is not the first significant Board of Adjustment decision to go to court, said John Cueva, zoning manager for the county's development review services department.

The board once turned down a 500-foot radio tower in Seminole, he said, and the case was appealed.

"You can probably see it on Park Boulevard as you're going west towards the beach," he said.

The attorney for the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency, Andrew Salzman, did not return phone calls Thursday and Friday.

Myers said Salzman is drafting appeal paperwork and he didn't know how soon it would be filed. By law, it must be filed within 30 days of the Board of Adjustment hearing, which was on April 3.

Times staff writer Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Decision on Palm Harbor hockey rink roof to be appealed 04/18/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 18, 2008 8:10pm]
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