CLEARWATER — The Pinellas County Commission reaffirmed the plans to redevelop Airco Golf Course on Tuesday, despite the proposal's stiff rejection by a county advisory board.
Commissioners voted 6-1 to move ahead with the St. Petersburg Clearwater International Airport's plans to convert the 129-acre course off Ulmerton Road into hotels, industrial and aviation businesses over a decade. Commissioner John Morroni, a resident of nearby Feather Sound, voted no.
On Dec. 16, the Pinellas Planning Council — an advisory board of elected officials including Morroni — voted 12-0 to reject the county's plan.
Morroni and other council members questioned the wisdom of adding more traffic to congested Ulmerton Road without firm traffic improvement plans.
Even with construction projects through 2030, Ulmerton would remain a failing road under Pinellas' rating system. The projects could add thousands of trips a day there.
Council members also wanted protections imposed now for a 60-acre buffer section between the site and Feather Sound. That land includes wetlands and an archaeological site. Only a firm protection would put neighbors at ease, Morroni said.
The council isn't against redeveloping the course, which lost money last year, but found the county's "incremental" planning left too much to be decided later, council executive director Dave Healey said.
"Let's go back and do this right," Healey told the commission, summing up the council's reaction, which went against its staff recommendation.
Instead, top county officials asked the commission to take the legally required supermajority vote to rezone the land and move the plan ahead. County officials promised a full master plan of the development will be approved, with road improvements, before work begins.
They also noted the commission decided in November to protect the buffer zone between the airport and Feather Sound — a decision neighborhood resident Michael Schlensker said should be binding.
"I don't see that we're that far off honestly, despite a 12-0 vote by the PPC," Commissioner Ken Welch said.
But designating the land for preservation now might rattle the Federal Aviation Administration, which has to approve the plans and looks down on preservation space, airport director Noah Lagos said. While other steps to save the buffer could work, the county also might lose flexibility to develop other areas of the course.
"We are committed to the buffer of that site with the adjacent residential (area) — period," County Administrator Bob LaSala said.
The plan still needs state approval and a final vote by the commission.
David DeCamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779.