SAFETY HARBOR — It was six months ago that Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub seemed set on selling city-owned land known as the Messenger property.
The 10-acre parcel near Harborside Church on Marshall Street is landlocked and not walkable in some parts. It made sense, Ayoub said, to sell the land and use the money for other projects the community could enjoy.
City commissioners promptly quashed the idea, unconvinced it was a good time to sell. But, under pressure from dozens of vocal residents, the commission went even further Monday.
With Ayoub leading the arguments, commissioners voted 4-1 to rezone the property and limit its use to recreation and green space. The move, Ayoub said, was to comfort those residents concerned about a possible sale.
"We're sending a signal to residents we're not interested in selling it," Ayoub said.
The city bought the property in 1999 with the intention of building soccer fields, a proposal that rallied neighbors to City Hall over concerns about noise, lighting and the potential loss of trees.
The soccer fields were never built because the city could not arrange public access to the property. So the stretch has become a preservation area of sorts, with 3 acres of protected wetlands and lots of birds.
That's why Commissioner Richard Blake argued Monday that the zoning change was unnecessary.
"We can keep the property the way it's zoned now and do whatever we want with it," Blake said, adding that rezoning would only tie the hands of the city. "It still doesn't make sense to me that we would devalue a city asset because of political pressure."
"I don't know if I'd call it political pressure as much as listening and making an informed decision," Ayoub replied.
In contrast to a meeting in June when dozens of residents angrily asked why the City Commission might ever have considered selling the property, few residents showed up Monday to watch them vote to protect it.
Although a sale may have been difficult given the site's lack of public access, Ayoub had hoped to use proceeds to help finance the waterfront parkland the city acquired behind the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa. There, the city has a long-term plan to build pedestrian trails, a boardwalk, a canoe launch and other assets.
Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.