Tampa synagogue’s plan to share space with a high-rise is nixed — again

After a grueling hearing that lasted until after 3 a.m., the City Council said the developer’s new plan wasn’t new enough.
Congregation Rodeph Sholom’s property along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa on Nov. 28, 2022.
Congregation Rodeph Sholom’s property along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa on Nov. 28, 2022. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Feb. 9|Updated Feb. 9

It may have been a new year and a revamped proposal, but the question of building a high-rise on the waterfront property of a South Tampa synagogue was no less contentious before the Tampa City Council on Thursday.

And well into Friday.

Opponents and supporters of the proposal to allow Congregation Rodeph Sholom to sell half its Bayshore Boulevard land to a developer packed the house and lasted until after 3 a.m., with dozens of those opposed calling the project too big and a bad fit for the neighborhood.

In the end, council members said the new version of the plan they unanimously rejected last year just wasn’t new enough. They voted 5-2 to nix it.

“In my opinion, there’s a minimum change between the first and the second,” said council member Charlie Miranda. “Not a substantial one.”

“It’s essentially the same building,” said council member Bill Carlson. “It’s only slightly different.”

Representatives of the developer spent the marathon hearing talking about how much their plan had changed since last year’s version.

Miami-based developer The Related Group was no longer requesting waivers, including one that asked to be allowed to preserve fewer trees on the oak-shaded property. Also, in the new plan, no grand trees would be removed, said Jake Cremer, attorney for Related. The tower went from the original 60 units to 42 and would be 26 floors instead of 29, with more green space, he said.

The developer was also promising to resurface two nearby roads, fix sidewalks and add a crosswalk. Related also offered $150,000 in investments for Fred Ball Park, a nearby stretch of waterfront green with a natural spring.

The park plan appeared to have backfired, public relations-wise. A member of Rose Circle, the volunteer organization that has cared for the park for decades, told council members in a memo that Related’s proposal lacked “any understanding of local input or history.”

Opposition from dozens of neighbors and interested parties was fierce. Carlson later called it “the worst relationship I’ve ever seen between a developer and the public.”

Todd Pressman, a zoning consultant representing the Tampa Garden Club, the popular wedding venue next door, stood before the council and recited wedding vows as he played the sounds of construction noise that drowned out his voice. Business for the private wedding garden, he said, would be “dismantled and destroyed” by a looming residential tower.

Members of Rodeph Sholom spoke in favor of the project.

Supporters of the plan said allowing the congregation to sell a little more than half its 2.12-acre property would provide a nest egg for future synagogue upkeep and could keep the congregation from one day being priced out and forced to sell their land outright.

Congregation President Lloyd Stern talked about the large, iconic menorah atop the 1960s building facing Bayshore and how it sends a powerful welcome message.

Stern also said people he believed to be friends and neighbors had engaged in antisemitic behavior over the proposal, though he did not elaborate.

At least two speakers said they were offended by his comment.

Council member Lynn Hurtak made the motion that ultimately killed the project. Luis Viera and Gwen Henderson were the no votes.

“It is a difficult decision for me because I like the project,” said Henderson. ”I also understand why the community is fighting.”