EAST LAKE — At least the neighbors can agree on this: The East Lake Tarpon Community Overlay did its job.
The overlay, which was created in 2012, defines the unincorporated community as being ". . . known for its quiet, scenic neighborhoods of unique residential communities and limited small businesses providing a safe and fun place to grow up.'' Pinellas County commissioners are required to follow its guidelines when making planning and land use decisions.
In recent months, East Lake residents have cited the overlay as they have confronted Foxwood Estates LLP, a developer that wants to add a 40,000-square-foot assisted living facility to its plan for a 10-home subdivision on East Lake Road, just south of Crescent Oaks Boulevard.
Opponents of the ALF reminded county commissioners of the overlay at a commission meeting last week, urging them to deny the developer's request for land use and zoning changes.
The result: Commissioners voted down the changes.
Last year, commissioners rezoned the 22-acre tract from agricultural to residential planned development for Foxwood Estates. Commissioners also gave the developer permission to build a 5,000-square-foot medical building.
But later, the developer was contacted by the Watercrest Senior Living Group of Vero Beach, which wanted to build an assisted living facility on the property. So Foxwood Estates returned to the county to ask that the zoning on about 3.4 acres be changed to institutional to allow an 84-bed ALF.
At the commission meeting last week, Peter Pensa, who represented the developer, said his team has worked for months with the community and county staff to ensure that the project honored the overlay's intent, including lowering the number of proposed beds.
The developer agreed to 68 beds after residents opposed the size of the facility.
Pensa also contended that while the overlay defines the corridor as a safe place to grow up, ". . . by integrating an ALF in the neighborhood, not only is there opportunity to grow up, but to grow old too, while staying in the neighborhood where friends and family are."
Don Ewing, president of the Council of North County Neighborhoods, which has members from more than 30 North Pinellas communities, also spoke to commissioners at the meeting.
In January, CNCN members told the developers their project violated the overlay and they could not support it, he said. However, after the developer revised the plan, CNCN ". . . believes it honors the overlay objectives that we helped create in 2012, which you approved," Ewing said.
However, CNCN's support was overshadowed by dozens of opponents from Cypress Run, who live across East Lake Road from the project site. More than 50 of the neighbors rode a shuttle bus to the meeting, many bringing signs that expressed their opposition.
They also brought Michael Foley, a Clearwater attorney who specializes in land use cases. He reminded the commissioners that ". . . the land use changes would be forever . . . What happens if the ALF goes out of business? What happens if another developer or buyer comes in and says an ALF doesn't work there?"
Commissioner Ken Welch didn't need more convincing.
"Based on the fact that this is eight times the size of the original medical building planned and the fact that there is so much opposition, I can't support this," he said.
The commission voted 5-2 against the request. Commissioners Susan Latvala and Janet Long voted in favor.
After the meeting, Ewing said that though his organization supported the ALF, he saw a positive in the commission's denial.
"The good news from this activity is that the community overlay, which CNCN championed for three years, did its job," he said.
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.