The Tarpon Springs City Commission has brought Morgan Group one step closer in its plan of building 404 apartments on a nearly 74-acre property along the Anclote River despite pleas from environmentalists and residents to preserve the greenspace.
But the preliminary approval granted Jan. 15 includes a requirement that will likely lead to the developer donating money to the city’s preservation efforts.
Commissioners required the developer to pay $65,000 for the city to consider transforming right of way that dead-ends into the east side of the property into an access road that can be used as a second entrance. Vice Mayor Jacob Karr suggested that if the city determines the road is not feasible, then Morgan Group should give the city’s land preservation fund $444,000, which is the balance of what it would have cost to build the road.
While residents urged the city to deny the application and buy the land for a park, Karr said the quasi-judicial nature of the rezoning hearing gave officials no choice but to approve the application because he said it complies with the comprehensive plan.
“At the end of the day, we have to weigh the facts that have been laid before us,” Karr said. “It’s not ‘Do I feel is it a good idea, do I want a park or do I want an apartment complex?’ That’s not the discussion tonight.”
The Commission approved the rezoning for the Anclote Harbor apartments 3-1, with commissioner Costa Vatikiotis voting no. Commissioner Townsend Tarapani recused himself because his stepmother, Cyndi Tarapani, works as a planner for Morgan Group.
The developer has one year to bring a final application to the commission for another vote. Morgan Group’s plan would develop 29 acres out of the 64 acres on the property that are not submerged. Of the 22 acres of wetlands, 0.9 will be developed.
The remaining wetlands will be put into preservation. Undeveloped uplands will be put into recreation open space.
Vatikiotis expressed concern over the safety of the single entrance on U.S. 19 as well as the median configuration that will require drivers to make a U-turn and cross three lanes of traffic to get into the complex. A Florida Department of Transportation official testified earlier this month that the single access is safe, but if accidents occur, adjustments can be made.
But opponents like Chris Hrabovsky say the fight is not over. In 2005, the Commission approved a Walmart Supercenter for the site. Residents filed two lawsuits, which failed in court but succeeded in delaying Walmart’s construction before the retail giant walked away.
Hrabovsky said he sees the same dynamic playing out again. Opponents have 30 days from the Jan. 15 approval to file an appeal, which Hrabovsky said will be just the beginning.
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“This thing is never going to get built,” Hrabovsky said. “I just wish (the Commission) stopped it when they could have.”