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3rd home plan may be charm for developer

Developers of the Tampa Bay Park of Commerce just might have drafted a plan that works for them and the city.

It's the third plan Michael Swerdlow Cos. has come up with in a year of negotiations with the city over building homes on the park's industrially zoned land. The first, to build 500 homes, and the second, for 300, were unacceptable to city planners and the City Council.

The new plan, presented to the City Council on Tuesday, calls for 225 homes north of Linebaugh Avenue. The homes would occupy 60 of the park's 400 acres. Council members have wanted the park, which is north of Tampa Road and west of Racetrack Road, used for industry that would feed the city's tax base.

Three of the council's five members told the developer that they were not opposed to the housing plan in concept, but all said they needed more details.

Lawyers for the city and Swerdlow will draft a proposal with the details, said Robert Berg, the developer's regional vice president. Tuesday's presentation was an attempt to determine the council's general feelings about the new plan, he said.

"I was a little disappointed with the total lack of commitment, but it appears we have enough votes to get it done," he said. "We're trying to get a reasonable compromise."

The Tampa Bay Park of Commerce was annexed into the city in 1994 with the understanding, according to the developer, that the city would allow the zoning to be changed to residential at some point. Last summer, when the developer proposed a residential development, city planners were against it, fearing it would burden city resources.

Swerdlow then declared the annexation agreement void and decided to go to the county for the zoning change. Berg was to appear before the County Commission on Tuesday but asked for a continuance on the request in order to approach the city.

Berg said if the city rejects this plan, he will pursue it through the county. Mayor Jerry Beverland said he had reservations about some parts of the plan but said he was still open to considering houses north of Linebaugh Avenue.

Council member Jeffrey Sandler said: "The framework of what you propose sounds reasonable to me."

Sandler said he would not support the plan unless the city retained the right to approve future uses on the entire property. He also asked the developer to prepare a business plan outlining how it would market the park's industrial land.

"I want it all built out," Sandler said. "Ideally I'd like it all built out industrially. Based on what I've seen, I don't know how fair that is to the developer."

Council member Ed Manny also asked for assurances that the industrial land would be developed.

"I don't really have too much problem with the concept itself," Manny said.

Although new to the council, Ed Richards is familiar with the issues from having served on the Planning Board. He told the developer that he would continue to keep an open mind about the project.

Council member Linda Macdonald, who has said all along that she would prefer industry, urged the other members not to feel obligated to support the plan.

"Think about what's best for the city of Oldsmar before you vote on any kind of housing," she said.

Macdonald said she was concerned about the impact the housing would have on local resources, primarily the schools.

The development is projected to add 63 elementary pupils in Oldsmar, according to Jim Miller, director of property management for the county school system.

Michael Swerdlow Cos. has offered to pay $1,000 per home to the School Board in order to pay for the construction of additional classrooms at Forest Lakes Elementary School. Miller told the council that idea would be difficult to implement.

Miller said he was working with the developer to come up with other solutions.

"We're not opposed to the development if they do mitigation," Miller said. "We think if they agree to follow through and be fair, we can reach an agreement."