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Snell Isle docks conflict raises questions of safety and fairness

As Greg Barow navigated his 25-foot boat past docks jutting from properties along Smacks Bayou, he explained why he and other homeowners oppose a proposal that could add almost four dozen boat slips to the sheltered waterway that empties into Tampa Bay.

Views differ at Snell Isle Luxury Waterfront Apartments, 1515 Eden Isle Blvd. NE, where the new docks and boat slips would be built. Residents of the rental apartments say they've got just as much right to boating amenities as neighbors in single-family homes.

It's an argument that has been playing out for several years. This week, the city's Development Review Commission was poised to consider the issue for the second time in eight months. A few days ago, however, a revised proposal for the project was suddenly pulled from the agenda.

Barbara Heck, president of the Snell Isle Property Owners Association, was surprised.

"It's very interesting news, but it doesn't change our position at this point. Anyone visiting Smacks Bayou can see that a marina is not an appropriate use of the space,'' she said.

Dave Goodwin, the city's director of planning and economic development, said his department is working with the owner of the apartments, Laramar Group of Chicago, to modify the plan.

Those fighting the new docks say the project would protrude into a narrow channel and be unsafe, increase congestion on the bayou and be hazardous to the environment. Opponents also say the boat slips would exacerbate the neighborhood's parking problems, because apartment residents already park on the road. Their boating guests would add to the congestion, said Chris Dailey, president of the Shore Acres Civic Association, one of three neighborhood organizations opposing the docks.

Goodwin said the earliest the commission could reconsider the proposal will be May. Neighborhood leaders question why Laramar was allowed to renew its proposal so soon after the commission rejected it in August. According to city code, a rejected proposal should not be reconsidered for 18 months without substantial changes, Dailey said.

"We do not believe that there is substantial difference to allow the process to be 'fast tracked,' '' said Peter Veytia Jr., 57, past vice president of the Eden Isle Civic Association.

But Goodwin said the proposal had been "substantially modified'' since August. Back then the proposal was for six docks and 50 boat slips. The longest dock extended about 203 feet and included 24 slips.

The latest proposal is for 44 slips — each with a boat lift — to be distributed over seven docks. The longest dock would be about 120 feet and have 14 slips.

The controversial issue was first raised about four years ago, when the apartment complex had different owners. In 2006, the owners talked to neighborhood groups about building as many as 89 slips, Dailey said.

Residents at the 272-unit apartment complex see snobbery in their neighbors' opposition.

"What they are saying is that 'because we live in a single-family home, we are more entitled to the use of the water,' which is really kind of absurd,'' said Phil Crane, 65, who envisions commuting by boat to his office at the Harborage Marina in downtown St. Petersburg, where he is a partner in the Florida Yacht Group.

Objections based on issues like safety are hypocritical, he said, adding that he sees people boating at high speeds around water skiers and tubers.

"It's already a disaster waiting to happen. The adding of these slips will not significantly change that,'' Crane said.

It's not a landowner vs. tenant issue, said lawyer Rick G. Bannon, 52, whose home sits on Smacks Bayou. The 44-slip project "far exceeds the existing per-lot density for docks on a single residential parcel,'' he said in a letter to the city.

Laramar spokeswoman Honey Rand said the project's present configuration "addresses every legitimate concern that has been raised.''

Neighborhood leaders launched a Web site, savesmacksbayou.org, to boost opposition to the docks.

City approval would be a first step for the project. Any plan also must be approved by the county, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Snell Isle docks conflict raises questions of safety and fairness 04/06/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 5:07pm]
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