Safety Harbor developer gets 20 years to finish homes

SAFETY HARBOR — Despite opposition from a handful of longtime Olympia Development foes, the City Commission voted 3-2 to approve the company's fourth application for major amendments to its Harbour Pointe Village site plan.

In the end, the company got want it wanted — for the most part. Instead of 21 years to complete the $10-million to $12-million project, it got 20.

Under the amended plan approved Monday night, Olympia has five years to start construction on the first building and 15 years to complete all three phases.

It's still two decades "which is two decades too long,'' said Mayor Andy Steingold, who along with City Commissioner Mary Lynda Williams voted against the plan.

Commissioners Joe Ayoub, Nina Bandoni and Nadine Nickeson voted for the changes.

Olympia also was granted permission to alter the mid-rise condo tower from two buildings to one and add two stories within the preapproved 65-foot maximum, making the structure seven stories instead of five.

The structure's new footprint is 41 percent smaller than the originally approved design. Living space was dropped from 2,226 square feet to 1,679 square feet per unit.

The commission also allowed 11 townhomes to be built north of Second Street S between Second Avenue S and Third Avenue S. The eight townhomes along Iron Age Street will be reconfigured into two four-unit quad buildings with a central courtyard.

Although reduced, the condo plan did not console those who have fought against the project since 2003 when it was first approved. And the length of time it will take to complete it was unacceptable to opponents.

But Olympia chief financial officer Edward Entreken said it is necessary in today's economic climate.

"We've tried to look at the economic cycles of residential real estate,'' he said. "We've been in an upsurge in this country for the last 15 years. There is no certainty of when the residential market is going to come back.

"Clearly, it's in our best interest for the buildings to be built as soon as possible.''

He said the market will dictate when construction begins.

But that didn't sit well with Robin Fornino and at least 200 people who signed a petition appealing to the commission not to extend Olympia 21 years to complete the project.

"The applicant himself said, and I agree with him, that it's very difficult for him to try to figure out when he's going to start this project,'' she said. "Why don't we take a step back and wait until he knows what he wants to do within reason of the economy and what money he can get from banks before yet more changes are made?''

Under intense questioning from the public and commissioners, Olympia president and chief executive officer William Touloumis suddenly motioned for Entreken to withdraw the application.

"I believe that the city of Safety Harbor is missing a golden opportunity to further the development, not for Olympia's sake, but for the sake of Safety Harbor,'' Touloumis said.

He said the downtown area has too many empty stores and that it is ridiculous for the community to complain about a project that promises to revitalize the city.

"Olympia's not going to suffer, the city's going to suffer,'' he said.

When Steingold asked if he really intended to withdraw his application, Touloumis indicated that he changed his mind and the vote was taken.

"For 20 years, (the property) was vacant,'' said Nickeson. "According to what was just done, it may be vacant for another 13 years. Am I sad about that? No. It has been maintained. It is needed."

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Safety Harbor developer gets 20 years to finish homes 11/18/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 11:27pm]

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