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Fence debate delayed to avoid ugliness

City commissioners considered a bunch of revisions to the city's development code at Tuesday's work session.

The issue that ruffled the most feathers was fences.

Namely, should the good side face in or out?

A couple of the commission members adamantly opposed a change that would require the finished side of fences to face neighboring properties.

Both Mayor Bob Jackson and Commissioner Pat Burke have personal stakes in the matter.

"In April, it will be 30 years that my stockade fence has been up," Jackson said. "The good side has always faced me."

And Burke couldn't see the sense of shelling out money for the fence to get a mediocre view.

"You're going to put a $10,000 fence up, and you're going to put the good side of your fence toward your neighbor? I don't think so," Burke said.

But neighbors on the other side of the fence have qualms, too, city staffers said.

Planning manager Peter Pensa said he has received a couple of dozen calls a year about the issue.

"I've been out to dispute resolution calls where they're about ready to kill each other," Pensa said.

And some folks end up in the slammer.

"In every city, one or two neighbors go to jail over the issue," City Manager Steve Stanton said.

To avoid a ruckus, officials decided to discuss fences later.

While the fence issue concerns residents, Pensa said a proposed change to eliminate landscape buffer requirements between certain lands would please other property owners.

As it stands now, most properties that have similar uses don't require the buffers. Some, like certain offices and institutions, do.

The change would remove the requirement and, in some cases, allow property owners to save $10,000 to $50,000 in landscaping fees.

Other proposed changes include revisions to the types of facilities allowed in the community redevelopment districts on West Bay Drive and Clearwater-Largo Road to keep with the city's vision of downtown revitalization.

Now religious institutions, funeral homes, bars and nightclubs are allowed unconditionally.

If the proposed changes are approved, churches, funeral homes and nightclubs in which less than 50 percent of the sales are from food may be allowed if they meet certain conditions.

City staff also proposed banning cemeteries from the district, even though there aren't any currently.

The changes were proposed to bring codes in line with county rules, smooth out inconsistencies and clear up issues that were overlooked when the code was amended several years ago.

In other action, the commission approved sales and development agreements for a 50,000-square-foot, five-story Hampton Inn & Suites Hotel on East Bay Drive, across from Largo Central Park.

The city is giving more than $685,000 in incentives to Baystar Hotel Group to sell the land, which was home to the Police Department and has been on the market for almost four years.

The city plans to sell the 3-acre property to Tampa-based Baystar Hotel Group for $800,000, less than its appraised value of $1.3-million. And the city would reimburse Baystar to relocate the sewer line and waive sewer impact, tree replacement and administrative fees at an estimated cost of $185,880.

_ Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or at lorrisptimes.com.

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