SAFETY HARBOR — A developer envisions office buildings, retail space and a four-story, 296-unit apartment complex amid trees and a creek.
One city commissioner sees business potential in hundreds of families streaming into Safety Harbor.
But another only sees a towering big-city development intruding on small-town charm.
"This is New York to me," said Commissioner Nancy Besore.
The proposed project calls for a mixed-use redevelopment on the northeast corner of McMullen-Booth Road and State Road 590, near Safety Harbor's border with Clearwater. The 35-acre property is currently home to an industrial complex, the Firmenich Citrus Center. In August, the city began working on a development agreement with the Richman Group of Florida, part of a national development firm.
Monday's City Commission discussion brought concerns about compatibility and traffic congestion. Commissioners asked for more renderings and for an outside company to conduct a traffic study. But they voted 4-1 to proceed with a development agreement. Besore vehemently objected.
The agreement regulates the density and intensity of the development, as well as outlining the numbers of parking spaces and trees to be left on the property.
"I think this is a great opportunity for the city of Safety Harbor," said Vice Mayor Joe Ayoub, praising the compact design and preservation efforts.
The next step is the proposal's first public hearing, scheduled for Wednesday with the city's planning and zoning board. Because the property had mostly been used for industrial purposes, the developer is seeking to rezone it for residential, office and retail use. The city will consider the rezoning application and development agreement in a series of reviews. Together with several Pinellas County planning agencies, the city also will look at a land use amendment, which addresses whether the proposal fits the countywide plan.
The developer would have to gain approval on all of those issues before moving forward with a site plan.
Safety Harbor community development director Matt McLachlan said the project would be the city's first new apartment complex in 25 years.
"This would be filling a void, meeting a demand in the community," he said.
But Commissioner Cliff Merz, who drives daily on State Road 590 — also known as 10th Street along that stretch — worried about increased traffic at a busy intersection. Besore, who lives nearby, questioned whether a 55-foot-tall complex would fit the city's quaintness.
A representative of the property owner and developer, Robert Pergolizzi of Gulf Coast Consulting, tried to soothe commissioners' concerns.
"The very first things we were told were: Buffer to the north, buffer to the east, and save trees," he said, adding that tall trees should mostly hide the complex from surrounding neighborhoods. About half the property is set aside for open space, tree buffers and stormwater drainage areas.
The complex also would include elevators, a swimming pool, fitness center, clubhouse, tennis court and dog park. Rents would start at $1,000 monthly for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom unit, with increasing prices for two- and three-bedroom apartments.
According to its website, the Richman Group is also building developments in Clearwater, Tampa and Zephyrhills.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.