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Land deal gets more scrutiny

City leaders were reluctant Tuesday to rubber-stamp a purchase of five properties on the north side of West Bay Drive from Amber & Onyx Realty Group.

At the City Commission meeting, commissioners authorized the city to enter into a contract to buy the parcels for $2.16-million. But at the urging of Vice Mayor Harriet Crozier, commissioners asked that the staff report back to them with the results of their due diligence research at the Jan. 16 city meeting.

"I have concerns here that we're giving you carte blanche," Crozier told the city staff.

One of the reasons for commissioners' reservations: The owner of O'Houston's Irish Pub & Restaurant on one of those parcels says he has about 12 years left on a 15-year lease. Eddie Houston, 45, said he negotiated a long-term lease three years ago because owning the pub was his dream. Since then, he said, he and his wife, Christine, have pumped more than $100,000 into their business.

City Manager Steve Stanton said it would be "a deal-breaker" if indeed Houston has a long-term lease.

Once Largo enters into a contract to buy the properties, the city will have access to the leases for the properties, officials say.

In October, the city purchased two other parcels on the block for about $700,000.

Officials hope the combined properties would give the city more than an acre to market to a private developer.

If Houston doesn't have a long-term lease, and if the property owner meets the terms of the agreement, the city could close on the sale Jan. 31.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or lorri@sptimes.com.

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