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Palm Harbor's too-tall roof raises questions

This is the view from Martin Del Monte’s front porch. The roof across the street is too high, neighbors and the county say.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

This is the view from Martin Del Monte’s front porch. The roof across the street is too high, neighbors and the county say.

PALM HARBOR — Next time, there shouldn't be any confusion when officials start talking about the height of that roof.

There was, of course, the first two times.

Now the result is a half-built structure costing the public $461,000, outraged neighbors and the potentially expensive question: What next?

The first step, it turns out, will be to send Palm Harbor's case of the too-tall roof back for another public hearing.

Last month, Pinellas County officials told Palm Harbor Recreation it had a big problem. The open-sided metal structure it was building to cover a multipurpose athletic court at the Sunderman recreational complex was taller than the Board of Adjustment allowed when it approved the project.

The county ordered work to stop and outlined three choices: remove the building, lower the roof to 25 feet or seek approval for the building from the Board of Adjustment.

Palm Harbor recreation officials first indicated they were inclined to do none of the three. But earlier this month, they changed course and agreed to an April 3 public hearing with the Board of Adjustment.

"We're trying to be good neighbors and trying to do what the county wants," Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation Director Rick Burton said Thursday.

For Palm Harbor Recreation that is preferable to lowering or dismantling the roof, which covers 9,000 square feet and is more than 34 feet tall at its highest point.

"If you do that, you've added probably the cost of the original project again," Burton said.

But removal is the only alternative the neighborhood is ready to accept, said Martin Del Monte, who has organized opposition to the project.

"It's just such a monstrosity that that's the only option," said Del Monte, who lives across the street from the structure.

So far, 22 homeowners have signed petitions opposing the project.

The Board of Adjustment first considered the building — in particular, its distance from Delaware Avenue, plus the fact it was being built in a residential area — in June. Board members turned down the project because neighbors complained that the big roof would ruin their views.

In September, the project, with more landscaping, was approved.

But at both meetings, a contractor for Palm Harbor Recreation described the roof height as from 22 to 25 feet tall.

Burton said Thursday that he didn't catch the discrepancy. To him, the 25-foot range described the clearance inside the structure, under the lights. They needed to be that tall, he said, because the facility is to be used for basketball as well as roller hockey.

County officials plan to make a recommendation to the board, but probably won't have that ready until next week, said John Cueva, the county's building and development review services zoning manager.

"We're looking at the extra height compared to the relationship of the adjacent properties to the north," Cueva said.

One question county officials are considering, he said, is whether it's possible to use additional landscaping to shield neighbors from the structure.

And if the board says no to the roof? What then?

"I don't honestly know," Burton said.

Probably he would first have to get some advice from the lawyer for the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency, the appointed board that collects property taxes and oversees Palm Harbor Recreation.

"I'm not entertaining that thought because I don't think it's logical that it should happen," Burton said.

Times staff writer Theresa Blackwell contributed to this report.

>>Fast facts

If you go

The Pinellas County Board of Adjustment is scheduled hold a public hearing on the Sunderman recreation complex roof at 9 a.m. April 3 in the fifth-floor board assembly room of the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.

Palm Harbor's too-tall roof raises questions 03/20/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2008 6:11pm]
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