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Rumors fuel Safety Harbor commission meeting protest

SAFETY HARBOR — Worked up by rumors and mass emails, Safety Harbor residents packed City Hall on Monday to protest, well, they didn't know what, exactly.

They were unsure of the city's plans. And their issue of concern wasn't on the City Commission's agenda.

But residents wanted to halt, in advance, any possible proposal to sell, pave or build something on the city-owned Messenger property or the adjacent Harborside Church property at 2200 Marshall St.

Never mind that city commissioners months ago shot down the possibility of selling the Messenger property. Or that commissioners might not have the authority to block Harborside Church from building an access road on its own property.

The 80 or so residents at City Hall wanted commissioners to promise — for now and the future — that they would do everything possible to block any construction near their neighborhoods, which include Harbor Isle, Cypress Knoll and Cypress Hollow.

Among other complaints, residents said changes could cause flooding and traffic while killing animals and trees.

"We know we've seen otter families and owls and bobcats and I've heard there are coyotes ...," said resident Gary Greer. "I have many concerns."

At least two residents called out Mayor Joe Ayoub for proposing in March to sell the Messenger property, a 10-acre city-owned parcel, to help pay for the $6.3 million in pedestrian trails and other assets planned on the city's recently-acquired waterfront parkland.

But commissioners said then that they'd rather preserve the green space and keep the Messenger property at least until values go up, and Ayoub's proposal to sell went by the wayside.

The mayor promised residents Monday he wouldn't bring up the issue again, and drew applause when he asked City Manager Matt Spoor to explore whether it's possible to designate the property as a preservation area.

"I do hear a lot of people in the audience that are expressing a desire to keep the Messenger green space," Ayoub said.

Regarding a possible access road at Harborside Church, elected officials were less able to make promises.

The church for years has discussed with city officials the possibility of building an access road, hoping to alleviate the hour-long traffic jam for churchgoers before Sunday and Wednesday services. The church has yet to submit an application to build the road, and Dean McSpadden, an administrator at Harborside, said he would talk with homeowners associations at surrounding neighborhoods before doing so.

The conversation was no less testy when commissioners discussed moving Safety Harbor elections from March to November next year, which could save the city $20,000 but would also grant Mayor Joe Ayoub and Commissioner Nina Bandoni extra time in office.

Commissioners delayed the decision over concerns about whether Ayoub and Bandoni could vote on the change or had a conflict of interest.

At least 200 people have signed petitions and emails urging the commission to keep the election date as is, including resident Michael Dommer, who read out loud Monday an email he sent to the city.

"If the president or Congress announced they were considering extending their own term because they considered holding an election that's less expensive, imagine the outcry," he said. "That comparison has flaws obviously, but I think it does paint an accurate picture of the common person's position on the matter."

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at bdavis@tampabay.com or (850) 323-0353. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Rumors fuel Safety Harbor commission meeting protest 06/04/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 6:03pm]
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