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Once and for all, reject restaurant

Safety Harbor residents get one more chance Tuesday night to tell city commissioners how they feel about a proposed restaurant next to the city marina.

Communities don't usually have to get so involved in the development of a restaurant. But this isn't just any restaurant.

Developer Walter J. Loick wants to build a restaurant that will be a regional attraction. Planned are a three-story, $1-million building and parking lot. The development would sit on a small 1-acre plot of waterfront land at the entrance to the city's picturesque marina.

The proposal, which would require a change in zoning on the land, has been rejected once by the City Commission. But Loick lobbied for the commission to reconsider, and commissioners agreed. This time Loick has preceded his presentation to the commission with a citywide campaign to persuade residents to support the proposal.

In the process, more than a little misinformation has begun circulating around town.

Loick showed off an illustration of his proposed restaurant. He began with a photograph of the empty, grass-covered parcel fronting on Bayshore Boulevard, and by computer manipulation placed a photograph of a beautiful building _ allegedly an example of what the restaurant might look like _ onto the site.

But no one should take this photograph as a true representation of the restaurant, because design of the facility is not final. The building that Loick used looks amazingly like a beautiful waterfront home in Seminole. The photograph omits power lines, signs, the parking lot and parked cars. The building in the photograph may not accurately reflect the bulk of the eventual restaurant _ note that although the center of the illustrated building is three stories high, the wings are only two stories.

In an open letter to residents published in a local newspaper, Loick makes some points that should pique residents' interest.

For example, he reveals why he has been so persistent about the restaurant. He says a feasibility study showed that a $20-million development of shops, offices and condominiums he plans to build across Bayshore Boulevard from the marina needed "critical mass" to succeed. "The project needs to make a sufficient impact to draw from the surrounding area," Loick writes. The big restaurant will function as a drawing card.

Loick also responds in the letter to some residents who have suggested that the city buy the parcel for a waterfront park so it will be protected. Loick says that purchase would cost $700 for every man, woman and child in Safety Harbor, which has about 16,000 residents. Someone ought to ask him where he gets his numbers. At $700 for every resident, the cost of this postage stamp-size piece of property would be $11.2-million. But the city recently had the land appraised at $270,000.

In another part of his open letter to residents, Loick tries to soothe opponents. "Change does not mean something bad," he writes, "provided it is compatible with the evolving character of its surroundings."

That's exactly our point. This restaurant would not be compatible. It is too big for the property. It would block the view of the marina and Tampa Bay from Bayshore Boulevard. It could create traffic problems on already overburdened Bayshore and its intersection with Main Street _ we say "could" because there is no site plan yet for this project, and therefore no definitive study of parking and traffic impact. And what uses might be permitted in that location if the restaurant fails, as many restaurants do?

City commissioners should note all the problems and questions with this proposal, and deny the rezoning.