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Safety Harbor's redrawn district rankles property owner

SAFETY HARBOR — After the County Commission refused to approve the city's expanded downtown redevelopment plan last year, community development director Matt McLachlan set about the monumental task of redrawing it.

But was it in vain?

The City Commission, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, approved the new plan Monday night, including a compromise to its most controversial area along South Bayshore Boulevard. But the man who spearheaded opposition the first time around said Tuesday he plans to fight the city again at the county level.

William Turkali owns one of the seven choice parcels of waterfront land at issue.

Since 1992, the properties, most of which sit on South Bayshore Boulevard, had been zoned retail/office/service. But in 2006, officials decided to rezone them residential and impose a 25-foot height restriction to retain the city's small-town character.

Turkali exploded with anger and said the move was unfair and prevented him from selling to a developer who might one day want to build condos on the land.

After the refusal by the County Commission, the city had an idea: Christen the area the Waterfront Village district and allow single-family houses and, with conditional approval, restaurants, townhouses and offices.

Maximum density would be 10 units per acre; height would be restricted to three stories.

In the district, for example, gas stations and banks would be prohibited, but a dentist's office might be reasonable.

To Turkali, the plan is a farce because he says the city wouldn't give its approval for anything but low-density projects.

"They gave me my townhouses and my offices, but it's strictly conditional on the commission's approval,'' he said. "They have the right to refuse.''

He said now it's back to square one.

He expects that in January, when the City Commission votes on the issue, he won't have much of a voice and it will be approved, but after that, watch out.

"I will defeat them at the county level,'' Turkali said. "In the end, I will convince the county commissioners the city has not changed the plan; they are still (devaluing) those seven properties and not giving any compensation. They are trying to show they are treating the property owners right, but they're not.''

He placed most of the blame on Mayor Andy Steingold, who has "been pushing to downgrade me and my neighbors,'' Turkali said.

But Steingold said the commission gave Turkali what he asked for.

"Two years ago, he came before us with attorney Ed Armstrong and requested that we provide him with medium-density residential,'' Steingold said Tuesday. "And last night, we gave him what he initially requested with the conditional usage of low-intensity office service."

He said he is confident that the County Commission will find the amended plan "to be in the best interests of the city and the citizens of Safety Harbor and approve it.''

The new community redevelopment area covers 156 acres in the downtown core. If the county approves the expansion, the city could gain $613,000 over the next 14 years in tax increment financing program revenues.

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

Safety Harbor's redrawn district rankles property owner 12/09/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 8:12pm]
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