SAFETY HARBOR — On a former auto salvage yard at 2805 Rigsby Lane, developers plan to build a tree-lined cul-de-sac with 21 homes worth $300,000 or more each.
But to win approval from city commissioners Monday, Tarpon Springs-based Pioneer Homes had to meet the demands of one insistent neighbor: Hilda Van Vliet.
"I really believe there should be some kind of fencing required of the developer to keep his clients off our property," said Van Vliet, throwing a surprise wrench into a proposal that seemed poised to easily pass. "They promised us."
George Zutes of Pioneer Homes said he did not promise a fence nor did he intend to build one on the site, which is south of State Road 580 and east of McMullen-Booth Road.
But Van Vliet, 76, repeatedly returned to the lectern to plead with commissioners.
Ultimately, commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the project, named Philippe Oaks, under the condition that Pioneer Homes build the fence of its choice at the border with Van Vliet's property.
Commissioner Cliff Merz, who said he believes the 5-acre parcel is too small for the number of homes planned, cast the only no vote.
But for a few minutes, the multimillion dollar project seemed to hang in the balance as commissioners grappled with how to proceed. Van Vliet said she feared trespassers and didn't have the money to build a fence on her own.
Zutes warned that "layering on more and more costs" on such a small project would discourage him from doing business in Safety Harbor.
Mayor Joe Ayoub and Commissioner Richard Blake said they opposed requiring the developer to build a fence if other neighborhoods around Safety Harbor aren't held to the same standard.
"We're getting hung up on the fact that this is a business and maybe they have more money," Blake said. "Whether or not they can afford it is absolutely irrelevant."
But Commissioner Nancy Besore forced Zutes' hand, saying she wanted developers to be "good neighbors."
"When I went ahead with this and felt very comfortable with this, I thought the neighbors were going to be comfortable," Besore said.
When it was clear that commissioners Nina Bandoni and Cliff Merz were also prepared to vote no, Zutes conceded, saying he could see he might lose the entire deal.
Other neighbors at Bermuda Court and North Bay Hills told the Tampa Bay Times they welcome the proposed subdivision, believing it will be an improvement over the current dump site.
Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at [email protected] or 727-445-4155. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.