PALM HARBOR — Residents along the western end of Bee Pond Road received some unwelcome news last week: Pinellas County has approved a site plan for a developer to build about 120 single-family homes near them.
It will happen on Parcel F, the last large piece of undeveloped land in Innisbrook. It includes 39 acres near Innisbrook's Island golf course.
Once all permits are approved and construction begins, all the trucks and heavy equipment required to build that new subdivision will come down narrow, pastoral Bee Pond Road for as long as five years.
Bee Pond residents received news of the truck route from Tom Washburn, manager of Pinellas County's Department of Environment and Infrastructure. It wasn't a complete surprise.
Since October, county staffers have been meeting with community members to discuss the project and the need to establish a truck route for construction vehicles to access Parcel F.
Alt. U.S. 19 and Bee Pond Road was the route chosen initially. But during the meetings, county staff and residents discussed another option as well: Belcher Road to County Road 70, which has access to Parcel F behind Sutherland Elementary School.
That option was recently abandoned, however, because of safety concerns at the school, environmental issues including a nesting eagle, and the potential for flooding.
"The county is now focusing its efforts on improvements necessary at the intersection of Alt. 19 and Bee Pond Road and along the segment of Bee Pond Road from Alt. 19 to the Parcel F site,'' Washburn wrote in an email to residents.
David Linesch, a labor lawyer who has operated the Linesch Firm on the corner of Bee Pond Road and Alt. U.S. 19 since 1995, was disappointed by the news.
"I think the decision was wrong-headed by the county. On a regular day, traffic here getting onto Alternate 19 is not safe, and I believe it will cause more unsafe conditions,'' he said. "It also doesn't seem right that residents on Bee Pond Road should suffer the burden and the consequences of the development that is not even in their community but in Innisbrook's.''
Resident Ed Sambriski, who represents a group of Bee Pond neighbors, attended last week's Pinellas County Commission meeting and told commissioners that the neighbors "strongly disagree" with the county's decision to rule out County Road 70.
But he added that residents want to work with the county and the developer. He provided a list of concerns that residents want addressed during the permitting for the project, including safety, a second exit in case of emergencies, and road improvements.
Even though Sambriski and his neighbors understand the county has decided to keep the big trucks on Alt. U.S. 19 and Bee Bond Road, they believe that lighter work vehicles could use other streets such as County Road 70 and Rolling Woods Drive. Sambriski calls it a "shared burden.''
"We think the county and the developer need to stand up and rectify this and make this right,'' he said.
This is not the first time Parcel F has been at the center of controversy. In 2004, developer Steve Samaha, representing a group called Innisbrook F LLC, got approval from Pinellas County to build 400 condominium units on the site.
Neighbors fought it in court. After four years, Samaha's side won.
But then the economy turned, and in 2010 the property went into foreclosure. PNC Bank took over Parcel F.
Ed Armstrong, an attorney for the current developer, West Bay Homes, was also on hand for last week's county commission meeting. He stressed that the developer will follow whatever conditions the county puts into the permit that allows the truck traffic.
"There's been a lot of discussion from neighbors who do not seem to want any traffic to be generated,'' he said. "They live on a public right of way, so that's not realistic."
John and Gail Crotty live in the Autumn Woods neighborhood, which sits between both discussed truck routes. Since moving into the neighborhood six years ago, the couple have become well-versed in the history of Parcel F.
A main reason they bought the home was because of the area's wildlife, including gopher tortoises, red fox squirrels and the American eagle that nests about eight houses away from their house, said Gail Crotty.
"This is not about one neighborhood having trucks and the other not. It's about the land,'' said John Crotty. "We think of all the habitat that is being destroyed.''
Piper Castillo is reachable at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.