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Safety Harbor's downtown land battle heats up

CLEARWATER — For years William Turkali has battled the city of Safety Harbor to protect his property's zoning — and its value. Now he's ready to sue.

Upset that county commissioners sided Tuesday with the city, he wants $800,000. Commissioners voted to allow Safety Harbor to move forward with its expanded downtown redevelopment plan, which Turkali said would devalue his property by 75 percent.

He wants the price he believes he could get from a developer — if it weren't for a new concession forcing potential builders to come before the City Commission and ask for permission to construct low-intensity retail or office-type structures.

Back in 1992, the city gave Turkali a gift.

An official came to him and asked if he wanted his land zoned retail, office and service, which would allow for lucrative development. He readily agreed.

But in 2006, the city announced it would allow only 25-foot-high houses to be built if any of the homes along a small stretch of South Bayshore Boulevard were torn down. The move was an effort to give the city a tapered-down look along 1.4 acres of waterfront just south of the Harbour Pointe project and the site of Olympia Development's planned condos. The plan also affected four properties near Turkali's.

The County Commission in the past failed to approve the plan because of Turkali's complaints, so the city offered a compromise, allowing medium-density residential with the conditional usage of low-intensity retail, office and service. That meant the developer would have to apply for such a use and appear before the City Commission for approval to build restaurants, townhouses or offices.

But with Safety Harbor pushing small-town charm, Turkali, 72, felt this was no concession at all.

The County Commission disagreed, voting 3-2 with Calvin Harris, Ken Welch and Neil Brickfield voting for the move, and Susan Latvala and Nancy Bostock dissenting.

Latvala said that while the downtown master plan is important to Safety Harbor's economic development, "it doesn't make sense that those parcels be treated differently.''

She said the concession the city made "is totally worthless'' with the commission that is in place today.

"I felt like that was a concession to get us to approve it,'' Latvala said.

Welch originally voted against the plan, but on Tuesday, he changed his mind.

"I felt the city did quite a bit to (assuage) the concerns we had about negative impact on Mr. Turkali's property,'' he said on Wednesday. "They increased density to 10 units per acre and increased the height to 35 feet. I think the mayor said it best. It gave Mr. Turkali what he originally asked for.''

Turkali places the blame for the mess on Mayor Andy Steingold, who he said has for years led a campaign to devalue his property.

Steingold said, "Any prior changes to the land development code was not done with Mr. Turkali's property in mind.''

He said the city has worked diligently to obtain a balance between the community's desire for quaintness along South Bayshore Boulevard and Turkali's hunger to develop his property.

"We held multiple sessions for the community to participate in a vision for the city, and I believe what the city applied for and what the county approved complies and meets with the approval of the commission and benefits Mr. Turkali as well," Stein­gold said. "I see no substantial negative financial impact to Mr. Turkali in today's market.''

He pointed out that the plan "wasn't just approved by me,'' but was unanimously approved by the Planning and Zone Board and also by the City Commission. Turkali has an answer to that.

"Commissioner Harris and Commissioner Welch turned into sheep before Mayor Steingold," he said. "Steingold, by omission of the details of the plan, basically lied to the County Commission."

He remains convinced Steingold drove the zoning change.

"You residents who sat back and did nothing are going to pay for that,'' he said.

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

Safety Harbor's downtown land battle heats up 03/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 8:36pm]
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