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Upscale homes approved for Safety Harbor

City leaders have given the go-ahead to a local developer to build 34 upscale homes on land off State Road 580.

Keith Lawes, a partner with the Long Bow Corp. of Safety Harbor, said his company has plans to contract with Minneapolis-based Rottlund Homes to build one- and two-story luxury homes and will call the subdivision Harbor Groves.

The site, south of SR 580 and east of McMullen-Booth Road, is under contract to be purchased from the Sun Groves fruit packaging and shipping business next door. It is valued by the Pinellas County property appraiser at $427,000.

Formerly zoned nonresidential, the 8.6 acres was annexed into the city about three months ago and will be the site of homes priced about $250,000.

"Because it is one of the last (large) pieces of property left in Safety Harbor, we wanted to build a community development that will enhance the area and make it something that Safety Harbor will be proud of," Lawes said.

Despite the City Commission's approval of the site plan Monday, the project has been greeted with some opposition from residents in the neighboring Bridgeport subdivision.

Bridgeport resident Stella Thomas wrote the city in February expressing "disapproval and objection" with the proposed development.

Thomas, a 16-year resident, said she was concerned with the potential removal of vegetation and that two-story homes nearby would overshadow their smaller one-story houses.

"I was really surprised to learn they would be building a subdivision back there," said Thomas, who considered asking the city to impose height restrictions on the construction. "But sometimes you just have to accept the inevitability of some things _ and it looks like (construction) is going to take place."

City officials said the property is not environmentally protected and called on Swiftmud to survey the site's small wetland. Swiftmud has given the developer permission to fill in the wetland for development, according to Ron Rinzivillo, associate city planner.

As for restricting the developer to one-story dwellings, Rinzivillo said, "The city doesn't have the ability to go in and modify the code like that. This particular property and Bridgeport is zoned where you are allowed to go two stories."

Lawes, meanwhile, said the Harbor Groves development will incorporate buffers such as a 6-foot wall and vegetation between the new homes and those along Bridgeport Drive.

"We tried to make sure the development was aesthetically pleasing and would blend in with the neighbors we are going to be backing in on," he said. "We wanted to respect all their wishes."

Construction should start in spring 2003, Lawes said.