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Development moves ahead

The development that wouldn't die clambered out of the grave again this week.

The latest set of plans from landowner Ed Rood Sr. won a string of approvals from the city Planning Board on Tuesday _ and one big denial, too.

Despite that one defeat, Rood's architect, Jim Bradley, called the board's action "a big leap forward" for a project that may hold the Olympic record for setbacks.

Rood, a Tampa lawyer, has tried for years to develop his land south of Tampa Road, but without success. More than once he has declared the project dead, only to resurrect it in some new form. The plans for his 146 acres have changed so many times that the changes have become a standing joke for some city officials.

The plan that Bradley presented to the board Tuesday, though, got compliments from several board members.

"Overall, you have come up with the best plan I've ever seen," board member William Harvey told Bradley.

Among other things, this plan calls for reducing the proposed 18-hole golf course to nine holes, in order to make each hole longer and wider. It calls for a mix of apartments and homes, instead of just apartments, and a 16-acre linear park with a jogging or walking path. The board recommended the city approve those changes.

The most controversial part of the plan required changing the zoning on the Tampa Road side of the property, which would allow a mix of office and commercial space, to allow for all commercial.

About a dozen residents turned out for the board meeting to oppose that part of the plan.

"What you're proposing is absurd," Chesapeake Court resident Barbara Long told Bradley. "I'm sick of going through Oldsmar and seeing nothing but commercialism."

"I don't know why Mr. Rood wants to build stores and offices on our golf course when there are shopping centers on either side that are full of empty stores and offices," said Azalea Court resident Thomas Tobin.

The old Harbor Palms golf course, now part of Rood's land, "used to be the gem of Oldsmar," Tobin said. "Let's restore it."

But Bradley said that simply restoring the old golf course, now covered with weeds, was not financially practical. The only way to get a new public golf course for Oldsmar is to allow the property owner to develop the rest of the property, he said.

Harbor Palms resident Art Moss called that "business blackmail."

"No one held a gun to Mr. Rood's head and made him buy that property," Moss told the board. "I'd rather see it stay as it is than give him these concessions."

Board member Jason Oxendine pointed out that a number of people bought land on Azalea Court years ago because their homes would then back up on the old golf course. Under Bradley's new plan, he said,"now they're going to look into the back of a strip center."

"They're taking away everything we paid for," Tobin agreed.

Bradley promised there would be a buffer zone of oak trees between the homes and any commercial development. But that wasn't enough to persuade the board to approve the zoning change.

At the recommendation of city Community Development Director Nick Staszko, the board voted to recommend denial of that part of the plan, in part because Bradley couldn't say just what might be built there.

Board member Jim Campoli told Bradley that Oldsmar's residents have been disappointed so often by developers who went back on promises that they just don't trust people like Rood anymore.

"We give you a blank check, and then we get stuck with the bill," Campoli said.

Bradley warned that Rood could go ahead and build something far worse on his property, a statement that drew an angry response from Long.

"That's the biggest joke yet," she snapped.

"Ma'am," Bradley told her, "I'm not a joke, thank you."

The Planning Board's decision is not final. It makes recommendations to the City Council. The council is scheduled to discuss the latest Rood plans at its regular meeting Tuesday.

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