Safety Harbor commission faces vote on another controversial development

SAFETY HARBOR — A plan for a seven-story, 48-unit condominium building in downtown Safety Harbor roiled and divided commissioners and the community in 2008, then was delayed when the economy soured.

Now the Harbour Pointe Village project, narrowly approved five years ago, has caught the eye of a new developer who is poised to use those hard-won city permits.

Only he'll have to get it past a City Commission that was recently embroiled in a controversy over how much development is too much in Safety Harbor.

"It's tricky," said Commissioner Nancy Besore, who earned praise and criticism from residents recently for helping to block the controversial Firmenich apartment complex proposed for State Road 590 at McMullen-Booth Road. "I have my personal preferences, but I'm going to be listening to the residents."

Although the Harbour Pointe project already has commission approval, the new developer is asking to extend the Nov. 17 deadline to start construction, in addition to other changes.

Farhod Nikjeh of Palm Harbor won narrow approval from the Planning and Zoning Board last week, with board members and residents clearly anticipating a fight.

Wells Fargo took over the property at S Bayshore Boulevard and Main Street after the previous owners filed for bankruptcy. Now, Nikjeh is under contract to buy the property if the commission grants the requested changes.

Nikjeh was not available for comment Friday. He was relatively quiet during the Planning and Zoning Board meeting, although he seemed willing to negotiate to make the project more palatable for residents.

During the meeting, resident Jim Barge criticized those who oppose every proposed development in the city.

"There are going to be some people here who are going to be anti-growth, anti-this, anti-that," he said. "I think this is going to be a really nice situation for downtown."

Several zoning board members had negative comments about the project, although they voted 4-2 to recommend it to the City Commission under the condition that the height be 55 feet —in line with other Main Street buildings — rather than the 65 feet allowed under the plan approved in 2008.

Nikjeh's plan calls for the first two floors to be a parking garage and the top five floors residences. Developers may have to lop off a floor to meet the 55-foot requirement.

Karen Kallal, perhaps the most outspoken board member to oppose the project, repeatedly said it would be incompatible with the rest of downtown.

"I didn't like it before, and I don't like it now," she said. "When this thing happened in 2008, our residents were not happy, to put it mildly."

The chief complaints five years ago were that the condos would tower over other businesses, clog the streets with traffic and obstruct the view of and breeze from Old Tampa Bay.

Commissioners are scheduled to take up the issue Aug. 5. If they approve, developers will get nine extra months to start building.

If commissioners say no, Nikjeh can rush to meet the deadline or submit new plans from scratch.

Nikjeh is also asking for permission to build six single-family homes off of Iron Age Street, facing 2nd Street S, rather than the two four-unit quad buildings that were in the plans approved in 2008.

It's hard to predict what commissioners will do, fresh off a divisive battle over the proposed apartment complex at the site of the now-defunct Firmenich Citrus Plant.

They approved plans in February over hundreds of resident protests, but opponents of the project scored a late win when the County Commission blocked the approval in May.

Developers appealed the issue and are headed for court.

Besore said some residents may now feel empowered to speak out on the next issue they feel strongly about.

She hasn't made up her mind on Harbour Pointe, she said. She wants to respect the previous commission that approved the project, but she also sees this as an opportunity to bargain for a building that is shorter and less obtrusive.

She said she'll ask for an environmental study to make sure the property's clay soil can withstand such a tall building.

Mayor Joe Ayoub, who voted for the project as a commissioner in 2008, said his next vote on the project will depend on the feedback he gets from residents."

"I want to hear what the community has to say and make a decision based on that," he said.

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 or mail your letter to 1130 Cleveland St., Suite 100A, Clearwater, FL 33755.

Safety Harbor commission faces vote on another controversial development 07/13/13 [Last modified: Friday, July 12, 2013 7:20pm]

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