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Safety Harbor gets feedback on what to put on waterfront swath

The city bought 13 acres behind the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa in February. Now the question is what to do with it. A proposed building on three plans has raised some eyebrows.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

The city bought 13 acres behind the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa in February. Now the question is what to do with it. A proposed building on three plans has raised some eyebrows.

SAFETY HARBOR — Little yellow sticky notes spotted the easels set up around the room.

No building. Don't move our ramp! No splash pool. Definitely splash pad.

The one-liners gave feedback on preliminary conceptual plans for the city's recently acquired waterfront property. More than 50 residents chimed in with their ideas at a Saturday morning open-house-style workshop.

As the workshop kicked off, discussions got a little feisty. Residents showered community development director Matt McLachlan with questions. Some took a broad approach: What if we're not ready to give our input? Are we rushing into this? What if we don't like any of the options? How much will it all cost?

Others homed in on the specifics: An observation tower in that area won't look out onto anything. It's too shallow for kayaks there. And if docks or an improved pier get built, what about the manatees?

City staffers will compile all the responses to factor into future discussions or new conceptual plans. Development recommendations are expected to be presented to the City Commission by the end of the year.

"We'll hold as many public meetings as it takes to develop a consensus," McLachlan told the crowd.

The 13 acres of undeveloped property sits along Old Tampa Bay behind the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, from the city marina to Mullet Creek. In February, the city bought the land from the spa owners, Olympia Development Group, for $2.75 million. The property has not yet opened to the public.

The workshop presented three ideas from two meetings of the waterfront park steering committee. The first concept placed shaded structures around a children's water play area. The second mapped out trails and boardwalks. The third focused on recreation along the shoreline.

Many residents seemed to favor leaving the natural feel of the property and minimizing development.

"This is what we love about our city," said resident Sheryl Hollen, 48. "A lot of people are trying to out-build it."

Cristy Rittenhouse, 36, agreed: "I'd like to keep it more natural." But she also envisioned trails and a splash pad to attract people from outside the community.

Some felt the results of an online survey were ignored. Conducted this summer on the city's website, the survey showed that nearly half of respondents didn't want a commercial building on the property. But on all three of the plans, a building of various size staked a spot near the marina.

Whether it would be used as a retail site, a restaurant or a recreation complex would be determined later, McLachlan said. That wasn't met with a lot of support.

"It just seems like they're trying to put as much as they can in there," said Rob Edmonds, 49. "It's like they're not listening to what the city of Safety Harbor wants."

Amid the open-house chatter, Edmonds sat at a table to write out detailed responses to what he wanted to see developed at the park.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance," he said. "You gotta do it right."

The conceptual plans will be presented again Nov. 3 at the Safety Harbor Wine Festival.

The information is also available at cityofsafetyharbor.com.

Feedback can be sent to mmclachlan@cityofsafetyharbor.com or dropped off at City Hall at 750 Main St.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or swang@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Safety Harbor gets feedback on what to put on waterfront swath 10/16/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 7:14pm]
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