SAFETY HARBOR — Residents say they could support redevelopment of the Firmenich Citrus Center.
Just not this proposal. Not this idea for a four-story apartment complex.
Wednesday marked the first big hurdle for a proposed mixed-development site at the industrial property on McMullen-Booth Road and State Road 590. The public hearing in front of the Safety Harbor planning and zoning board centered on preliminary plans for the project by the Richman Group of Florida.
But all residents saw was what could be the end result: Buildings towering over the small city. Masses of cars tangling already-congested roads. A boom of children crowding local schools.
"If you want to come to Safety Harbor, you have to do so in a way that's compatible with Safety Harbor," said Mike Brundage, who lives in an adjacent neighborhood, Old Harbor Place. "Four stories, 55 feet tall, 400 parking spaces, dumping out onto a two-lane road — I'm sorry, that's not compatible."
But despite the expressive crowd of more than 75 people mostly in opposition, the zoning board voted 5-1 to move the project along. Chairman Chris Logan abstained because he lives in Old Harbor Place. Member Karen Kallel was against it.
"I think it's just too much," she said. "Too big. Too high. Too much traffic."
The proposal will go to another public hearing at the City Commission meeting Nov. 5. The plan requires a development agreement, changes to the city's future land use map and changes to the property's current zoning. All three need to pass several county and city reviews before the developer presents a site plan.
Plenty of emotions colored the two-and-a-half hour meeting. Opponents invoked the city's emblem of a peaceful nature scene and read the definition of "quaint" from the dictionary. They grumbled and laughed at the developers.
They accused the developers of trying to "shoehorn" the project into the spot and using scare tactics by suggesting other options could be worse. They felt it was presented as "all or nothing." They didn't think enough proof was given to demonstrate potential effects on the community. Two surrounding neighborhoods, Old Harbor Place and Wilder Oaks, submitted petitions against the project.
The development would include 75-foot tree buffers on the north and east edges of the property. About half the land would be designated for preservation. The 296-unit apartment complex would sit off State Road 590, while an office and retail space would run along McMullen-Booth Road.
"We try to be conscious of our neighbors," said Damon Kolb, a development associate with the Richman Group of Florida. "We want to be good neighbors."
The multifamily use would offer a transition between commercial areas and single-family neighborhoods, the developers argued.
Kolb displayed aerial photos of similar apartment complexes the company built in Clearwater, Tampa and Riverview. He also showed the current site and pointed to a 68-foot tower.
"If you can't see that pipe assembly from your home now, you won't see our buildings," Kolb said.
Opponents argued the proposed project would mar Safety Harbor's small-town feel. But a lone public proponent drew on the city's charm as a reason to support the proposal.
"This is a good spot," said resident Steve Tonnesen. "If somebody wants to live in Safety Harbor, there's not a lot of good housing available right now" for renters.
On the planning and zoning board, alternate member Dean Harmesan said, "I think it provides a diversity to the city that we don't have."
Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.