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Harbour Island tower rising, but legal challenge persists

Harbour Island residents want the Manor tower halted on the grounds that Tampa officials miscalculated the parking available.
Harbour Island residents want the Manor tower halted on the grounds that Tampa officials miscalculated the parking available.
Published Jul. 2, 2016

TAMPA — The Related Group's new apartment tower on Harbour Island is already about three stories tall and is on its way to 21, but islanders who oppose the project have not given up their efforts to block the project.

Since January, more than 80 residents and property owners on the island have pressed a lawsuit — the second filed over the city's approval of the tower — to have a judge declare the city's building permit null and void on the grounds that Tampa officials miscalculated the number of parking spaces available for the project.

More recently, the group's attorney, Brent Divers of Tampa, urged City Hall to revoke or suspend the building permit for the tower, known as the Manor, for the same reasons.

But City Attorney Julia Mandell has said no. In a response to Divers, she said City Hall has no authority to void the building permit or to halt construction.

To the contrary, she said, the city maintains that the project meets all city code requirements.

"The city feels very strongly that our approval was in line with our code and has already been litigated once and was upheld," Mandell told the Tampa Bay Times. "Going back through this is seemingly a waste of resources, but I respect that everybody has a right to go through the legal process and it needs to work itself through."

The developer, Related, is based in Miami but has a growing portfolio of high-profile projects in Tampa.

In 2013, Related opened the Pierhouse at Channelside, a four-story, four-building complex with 356 apartments on S Meridian Avenue. Then it purchased the headquarters of the former Tampa Tribune, which it plans to tear down in coming weeks to make way for 400 new apartments and a riverfront restaurant. And last week, the Tampa Housing Authority picked Related to be the lead developer for the "West River" area once the North Boulevard Homes public housing complex is demolished.

As approved, the Manor will include 340 studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments at the corner of Knights Run Avenue and Harbour Place Drive. Developers aim to begin leasing in April, with rents averaging about $2,800 a month and residents moving in next June or July.

But the Manor will have only 35 parking spaces on site. The rest of its 595 required parking spaces will be located in the neighboring parking garage for the Two Harbour Place office building. A new pedestrian walkway three stories above street level is planned to connect the tower to the garage.

Putting those spaces in the neighboring garage has been a point of contention between the city and opponents of the project for more than two years. Opponents have raised questions about whether the arrangement would exacerbate traffic problems on the island and would allow for a tower so densely packed with residents as to be out of character with the rest of Harbour Island.

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But late last year, residents' first challenge ran into a dead end at the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Soon after, Related broke ground on the project. But residents — some who were involved in the first lawsuit, as well as some who weren't — hired a different law firm that filed a second lawsuit over the project.

Divers said in a recent letter to the city that the 1,185-car garage at Two Harbour Place is more than 240 spaces short, after parking promised for the Two Harbour office building, The Manor and other nearby businesses, including Jackson's Bistro, is factored into the calculation.

About 100 parking spaces for Jackson's are at the center of a separate lawsuit between Convergent Capital Partners, which bought the Knights Point complex that houses the restaurant in 2014, the owners of the Two Harbour Place garage and Related.

But the city has said in its own legal pleadings that opponents misapplied the city codes on how much parking is required in the garage, have failed to show how each plaintiff would specifically be hurt, and are trying to re-open an approved parking agreement that has already been litigated once. A hearing on a city motion to dismiss is scheduled for July 25.

Related vice president and development manager Arturo Peña said the issues in the latest lawsuit seem "very similar" to those in the residents' first suit, which had been considered by the City Council, then by a magistrate, then by the council again, then by a circuit court judge and finally by the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Richard Danielson at (813) 226-3403 or rdanielson@tampabay.com. Follow @Danielson_Times