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Apartment project will be hot issue in three-way Safety Harbor mayoral race

SAFETY HARBOR — Former Mayor Andy Steingold has "unfinished business" in City Hall. He is again running for mayor, challenging the man who took over for him when Steingold resigned the position last January.

Steingold submitted his paperwork just before the noon Tuesday deadline to qualify for the election, having collected all 100 signatures that morning.

"I wanted to see who was lining up before me before I got into the race," Steingold said.

The election, to be held March 11 in conjunction with the special election to fill the seat left vacant by the October death of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, will be a three-way contest featuring incumbent Mayor Joe Ayoub facing off against challengers Steingold and City Commissioner Nancy Besore.

Steingold resigned the office in January 2013 to pursue a failed bid for a county judge seat. Ayoub, at the time a city commissioner, claimed the seat unopposed.

If re-elected, Ayoub said his focus will be maintaining the momentum he has gained with the Waterfront Park project.

"I want to focus on getting our downtown vibrant and attracting good businesses to it, while maintaining the small-town charm of the city that everybody loves," Ayoub said.

Additionally, Ayoub said, he wants "to keep our spending in line with our revenues," and keep taxes low.

Steingold said that, if elected, he wants to focus on transportation "connectivity issues," which include the upkeep of sidewalks and bike paths.

He added that although city taxes have risen, solid waste pickup has been cut to once a week and many residents are unhappy about that.

Steingold said the City Commission's focus has been on the budget. He wants to refocus its attention back to "providing good services in a safe community to the citizens."

Besore, if elected, said she would like to find other options for the development of the Firmenich Citrus Plant property on County Road 590, near McMullen-Booth Road, instead of the proposed luxury apartment complex being weighed by the city and county.

"I want to be the person who encourages economic development, but I want to be the person who keeps our quaint character," she said.

The future of the Firmenich property is likely to be an issue at the heart of the race.

A majority of the City Commission last year approved a zoning change on the 35-acre property ­— from industrial to residential — to permit a developer to build a $45 million apartment complex there. However, the Pinellas County Commission struck down the project in the face of strong public opposition. Besore was among those opposed to the apartments.

Since then, though, a state administrative law judge has ruled that the County Commission erred when it voted down the proposal. The County Commission will reconsider the case during its Tuesday meeting, which begins at 9:30 a.m. in the Pinellas County Courthouse at 315 Court St.

As mayor, Ayoub voted in favor of the project. "This project is more compatible (with surrounding neighborhoods) than what the light-industrial classification would allow," he said.

Additionally, Ayoub stressed, the City Commission was required to consider several criteria — and nothing more — when voting on the proposal, and could not legally base its decision on public opposition.

Besore is one of the project's most outspoken opponents. "I'm not opposed to the development of (the property)," she said, "I just want to keep it light-industry." Besore said she would rather attract new jobs to the property than new residents.

Steingold, too, opposes the residential development of the property, but more so because of traffic concerns. "The load on that area would be somewhat unbearable to residents, considering the number of units to go in," he said.

Both Ayoub and Steingold expressed a desire to avoid running negative campaigns.

Steingold will most likely face criticism, though, for re-emerging onto the city's political landscape only one year after resigning from it.

"I have not left the scene since having to resign in January," Steingold said. "(Safety Harbor) is my home, it's where the heart is, it's where my family is. It only makes sense that I continue to be involved."

Ayoub said, "I think it'll be up to the voters to decide if this is (Steingold's) top choice or if his heart is somewhere else."

Josh Solomon can be reached at jsolomon@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4155. Follow @JSolomonTimes on Twitter.

Apartment project will be hot issue in three-way Safety Harbor mayoral race 01/10/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 10, 2014 6:56pm]
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