SAFETY HARBOR — After nearly a year of street protests, petitions and a seemingly endless list of complaints, Safety Harbor activists rejoiced when the Pinellas County Commission struck down plans for a large, upscale apartment complex.
But the Richman Group, the West Palm Beach developers behind the project, filed an appeal for an administrative hearing Tuesday that essentially said: We're down, but we're not out.
"What my client wanted to do was build a nice residential community," said Ed Armstrong of Clearwater, attorney for the Richman Group. "You have an awful lot of policy makers and land use professionals that assessed this case, and they also came to the conclusion this change was appropriate."
The County Commission unanimously vetoed a needed zoning change from industrial to residential May 7, even after developers squeezed the proposal past Safety Harbor commissioners and several other boards and committees, revising it several times.
The proposed complex would be on State Road 590 just east of McMullen-Booth Road, on the site of the now-defunct Firmenich citrus plant.
County commissioners said they denied the proposal because of concerns Pinellas County is losing too much industrial property and is becoming a "bedroom community" with few jobs.
But they also seemed influenced by the hundreds of letters from Safety Harbor residents who said the complex would increase traffic, damage the environment, decrease property values, bring in too many people, and be too tall, too ugly and too isolated. The proposed apartment complex was so bad, residents argued, that they would welcome an industrial plant instead, even without knowing what kind of industrial use would be there.
Among other points, the Richman Group's appeal states that the County Commission's decision to deny a zoning change wasn't supported by evidence, and the county has net-gained 80 acres of industrial land since 2006.
The petition also argues the land is not appropriate for a factory because it is bordered on two sides by single-family homes and there isn't adequate street access for a major industrial facility.
Under the appeal process, an administrative law judge will make a non-binding recommendation and send the proposal back through the Pinellas Planning Council and the County Commission. That could take eight months or more.