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Developer, county hundreds of feet apart

It took two months and the support of several paid lobbyists, but St. Petersburg developer Grady Pridgen ultimately declared victory.

Pinellas County commissioners agreed to change the countywide land-use policy this month so he could build homes and offices on industrial land next to the county's landfill.

But it turns out that the celebration may have been premature. His plan must clear one more obstacle.

Actually, it's a buffer.

County commissioners are debating whether to follow staff advice and require Pridgen leave at least 2,000 feet between the homes and the landfill off 28th Street. A developer could ask permission to cut that to 1,000 feet under a draft ordinance presented this week that would require commission approval.

Pridgen said those provisions would have a negative effect on his project. He might be able to agree to an 800-foot buffer, he said, but 1,000 feet is nearly unworkable.

He said he is confident that commissioners will reject the proposal after they have reviewed his site plans.

"This is just a first draft they're considering," he said. "I think that once they see the plans, they'll feel a lot better about the project than they have been feeling."

Pridgen envisions a horseshoe of high-tech manufacturing buildings, offices and parking garages along the north, east and south edges of the 130-acre property. At the center, he sees a man-made lake. Along 28th Street, he wants restaurants and shops, with condominiums and apartments towering above them in three to six story buildings. There's even going to be a hotel, he says.

But commissioners warned him that they would approve the project only after creating an ordinance that stipulates a workable buffer between any residential development and the county-owned landfill. He agreed to that at the Jan. 6 public hearing.

County Administrator Steve Spratt said his staffers conducted an intensive review of how counties across the nation handle development near landfills. They found few that allowed homes closer than 1,000 feet. Hillsborough, Hernando and Broward counties require at least 1,000 feet.

"First and foremost, we have to set the standard based upon the interest of the solid waste disposal unit," Spratt said. "If he can work his project to work within those parameters, that would be ideal."

The mood among the commission is split. Chairwoman Susan Latvala called 1,000 feet the "minimum" and said anything less than 2,000 feet would have to be "justified."

Commissioner Calvin Harris, who has supported Pridgen's project from the beginning, questioned the staff's research. He wants to see if 500 feet can work.

"When we left, that was the number we were talking about and that was the number everybody could live with," Harris said. "I don't want the ordinance to create a buffer that would in essence kill the project."

Commissioner Bob Stewart voted against the policy change. He cited the importance of protecting the solid waste facility from future residents who might oppose expansion. The county owns property directly north of Pridgen's development that would be used within 15 years for a second landfill.

He said 2,000 feet should be the limit.

"I think anything less than that could prove to have some real detriment to the future of that landfill operation," Stewart said.

The matter will be discussed at public hearings Feb. 17 and March 19. It will likely be adopted in some form at the second hearing.

_ Michael Sandler can be reached at 445-4162 or sandlersptimes.com.

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