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Face lift forces Anclote faceoff

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Just across the Anclote River from his home lies George Zutes' dream.

For a dozen years, Zutes has wanted to bring new life to the river's industrialized north side. He hopes to do it with a 10-acre island boasting luxury homes and a 70-slip commercial marina.

"I wanted to make my statement," he said.

A marriage of the fancy and the functional, the opulent homes and the marina are in plain view of boat yards, bait shops and industrial parks. The steel hull of a 150-foot fishing vessel under construction is part of the panoramic view from Zutes' Anclote Isles development, which will have 19 homes with price tags from $250,000 to $700,000.

It is a marriage Junior Duckworth doubts will last. He runs the boat yard where the large fishing vessel is being built. He is worried new residents won't appreciate an atmosphere where workers beat and bend steel to make it float.

"This is heavy industrial, and that's residential," Duckworth said. "I know there are going to be complaints.

"Any time we try to sandblast or paint or do anything, they're going to gripe about it," he said.

But Zutes said the activity of the river is one of the attractions of his new development. A stand of trees and tall boats moored in the marina also will serve as a buffer.

"It doesn't get much nicer than this," he said.

Like a proud father, Zutes surveys his project just off Anclote Road and northwest of the city's famous Sponge Docks. It has taken him a decade to work through the federal, state, county and local bureaucracies to get the necessary permits.

His Anclote Isles Marina, better known as Zutes Marina, was recently completed. And at least half a dozen homes are under construction, with two more scheduled to be under way next week. Pioneer Developers of America, the company Zutes owns with G.

P. Stamas, is the island's exclusive builder.

Ken Lewis and his wife, Norma, have bought a home on the island. Lewis, who runs a Baltimore-based manufacturing company, said it would be the couple's second home.

Lewis enjoys the area's hustle and bustle.

"It's kind of quaint," Lewis said. "The mystique of the Sponge Docks and the boats coming back and forth kind of really add to the flavor."

Zutes' spit of land looks nothing like it did. It had been a peninsula until eight months ago, when he cut a flushing channel 710 feet by 50 feet that runs from the small cove where the marina is located into the Anclote River. The channel improved the quality of the cove waters, Zutes said, and created the island where his homes will stand.

Richard Hague, a city engineering technician, called the channel an "excellent idea." He said opening up the cove has helped flush and clean the water, as well as increase its oxygen level.

A 1992 report from the Pinellas County Department of Environmental Management said the marina wouldn't have an adverse impact on water quality.

An earlier report from the county also said the marina would have little effect on the shore although some wildlife would likely be displaced because of more people using the area.

The cove also was dredged to make it navigable for boats up to 70 feet long. Zutes hopes to attract these boat owners to his marina with monthly slip rentals of $150 to $300.

The marina has its own harbor master, who will have an office on site. About 15 percent of the slips have been spoken for, Zutes said.

"It doesn't happen overnight, but we're off to a good start," he said.

While some are excited about Zutes' project, others have their complaints. Richard Leigh is one of them. He moors his 26-foot sailboat at the nearby Belle Harbour Yacht and Marina.

"We've got to jog around to try to get in and out," said Leigh, pointing out how the new marina boxes in the Belle Harbour docks.

Duckworth, the boat builder, said he thinks Zutes' project is just beginning to change the face of the river's north side. He doesn't like what he sees.

"It's going to run all us working guys off," he said. "I guess that's what you call development."

But Brad Currelly, who owns Neptune Marine with his brother, Randy, is excited about seeing the slips at the new marina fill up.

"I think they're going to bring a lot of boats in, and that's conducive to our business," said Currelly, who runs a boat repair shop.

Kevin O'Neill of Tarpon Fishermen's Supply, just across the street from Zutes' marina, is eager, too.

"I'm totally for it," he said.