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Safety Harbor project gives voters a Hometown Democracy warm-up

A proposed Safety Harbor development project now embarking on months of government review illustrates some of the issues that will confront voters if the so-called "Hometown Democracy amendment" on the November election ballot is approved.

Developers apparently not cowed by continued sagging of the economy want to build a shopping center just east of the intersection of McMullen-Booth Road and State Road 590. They have a contract to purchase the 10-acre Safety Harbor Complex, a large industrial/warehouse facility at 1600 SR 590. They also have a lease on the former Popeye's restaurant property at 1475 McMullen-Booth Road, which would be used to provide access to the larger site for motorists traveling on McMullen-Booth.

The developers plan to build a full-service supermarket on the property, which is immediately across McMullen-Booth from an existing Publix. A conceptual site plan filed with the city also shows a proposed bank and several small retail buildings. The plan assigns the name Orange Blossom Square to the shopping center.

Last week Safety Harbor commissioners unanimously approved moving the proposal to the next stage, which is negotiation of a development agreement between the city and the developer. A development agreement lays out the obligations of both the city and the developer. Even if an agreement is successfully negotiated, the project will need months of review and approval by various levels of government, with several opportunities for public input at hearings along the way.

The Safety Harbor Complex is now labeled for light industrial use on the city and countywide land use maps. Before a shopping center could be built, the property would have to be changed to a commercial designation. It is the sort of development that would have to be approved by voters in the future if Amendment 4, the Hometown Democracy question on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot, is approved. Such decisions are currently left to local officials and state reviewers.

Local officials sometimes struggle with those decisions, especially when projects are controversial. But voters might struggle more.

Consider the potential negative impacts voters would have to weigh if the Orange Blossom Square shopping center were on the ballot. The center would add even more traffic along already swamped McMullen-Booth Road. It could spur other commercial development nearby, as shopping centers often do. And a change in zoning and land use to commercial would be a departure from the determined effort to preserve industrial land throughout the county in case manufacturing and clean industry some day return to Pinellas.

But then voters would have positive impacts to consider. A shopping center would be more attractive than the collection of warehouses now standing on the dusty, unadorned property. A new supermarket would provide competition for the other grocery stores along McMullen-Booth, perhaps driving down prices for consumers. The shopping center would pay substantial property taxes, perhaps saving city programs or services at risk of being cut because of falling city revenues. The project would provide construction jobs during the building phase and retail jobs later. Could voters turn away jobs in this economy?

For now, those factors and others will be weighed by government officials responsible for approving development projects. But Safety Harbor residents may want to watch as the shopping center project travels through the review process and consider how they would vote if the ultimate decision were theirs to make.

Safety Harbor project gives voters a Hometown Democracy warm-up 07/27/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 6:12pm]
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