SAFETY HARBOR — City commissioners retreated from initial development terms for a large apartment complex and retail space on the edge of town, deciding late Monday that four-story buildings would be too tall.
They agreed to limit redevelopment to three stories on the former Firmenich industrial site.
It was a turnaround from the last commission meeting, when officials approved the development agreement for consideration by the planning and zoning board. Though most of the commissioners expressed some unease over the project's details, only Commissioner Nancy Besore firmly opposed it. Residents later fiercely objected to the imposing scale of the proposal and the potential scrum of traffic that it would bring.
"The thing that disappointed me," Commissioner Nina Bandoni said Monday, "was that we gave some of this input to them before they went to (the planning and zoning board), and I didn't see them adjusting their plans or doing anything to show that good faith."
Developers for the Richman Group of Florida had previously said that the height was "nonnegotiable," said Matt McLachlan, Safety Harbor's community development director. The city contacted them Tuesday about the change in business terms.
"I understand the pressure that they're under from the residents," said Damon Kolb, a development associate with the Richman Group of Florida. Still, he said the commission's move surprised him.
He reviewed the meeting video and said the company would mull over three-story options, likely to be discussed at a city workshop next month. As of Tuesday, he was not considering nixing the project altogether.
The commission's concerns arose in an unplanned discussion at the end of Monday night's meeting, when Mayor Andy Steingold wondered whether support had waned for the project.
Commissioners questioned the compatibility of the proposed 55-foot-tall complex on the northeast corner of McMullen-Booth Road and State Road 590, with single-family homes surrounding the nearly 35-acre property. They also hesitated over the density of 296 apartments and the ensuing traffic.
"I think there's too much, too many people," said Commissioner Cliff Merz. "Too many people, of course, would relate to too much traffic on that particular road."
Vice Mayor Joe Ayoub shared those qualms but reminded the commission that the city has more control over this particular project because of the need to rezone and amend the land use. He encouraged commissioners to think broadly about the property's future.
"The way that it is right now is not going to stay the same," he said.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.