TAMPA — City Council members considered what one of them called a “tough vote” for nearly two hours Thursday evening before giving the initial nod to a nearly 500-unit apartment complex to be built next to an active chlorine plant at Rattlesnake Point.
The 4-2 vote came after officials for the developer, Orion Marine Construction Inc., argued that they had modified their plan significantly by moving two apartment buildings away from the plant and reducing the number of units by about 150. They also said concerns about the possible dangers of a chemical leak hadn’t been backed up by expert testimony.
Orion had asked for a two month delay after council members questioned them in February about the safety of putting apartment dwellers with one access road to Westshore Boulevard next to a plant that makes water treatment and other industrial products.
The hubub surrounding the proposal in February forced the developers to “rethink lots of things,” said attorney Elise Batsel, who represents Orion. “It’s a much better project.”
South of Gandy residents living near Rattlesnake Point — which juts into Tampa Bay just south of the Gandy Bridge — have organized recently against more multi-family development in the area. They say an influx of multi-family units has strained traffic and lowered the quality of life for residents.
They opposed the Orion project, saying city and county planners had recommended against residential development five years ago. They said it was dangerous for future residents who might not know the risks of evacuating with West Tyson Avenue as the sole escape route.
Meanwhile, the city has been sued by another Rattlesnake Point developer, whose project was denied by council members in January for not adequately proving that residents wouldn’t be in danger.
On Thursday, most council members sided with Orion while John Dingfelder and Orlando Gudes voted against Orion’s request to rezone the land from industrial to allow apartments.
Bill Carlson, who represents South Tampa, recused himself from voting, citing a possible conflict of interest involving a client of his public relations firm.
But not all the yes votes came easily. Luis Viera said he was encouraged by changes in Orion’s rezoning application, but acknowledged that it “was a tough vote.” The city could face a reckoning if council members voted no, he said, in an apparent nod to the ongoing lawsuit.
Joe Citro said the evidence indicated the project “is not going to be safe from any accident that might occur.”
But Citro also voted yes after safety consultant Martha Ira testified that the chances of a leak or spill (which hasn’t happened since 2003, she said) was remote, likening it to a plane crash. Or what Batsell characterized as a “high impact and low frequency” event.
Tampa isn’t the industrial city it once was and things evolve, said Charlie Miranda, who also gave an initial yes to the 18-acre project, that will also include a public boardwalk and community boat slips.
Miranda cited Harbour Island as an example of a former industrial area that’s now high-end residential.
“Life changes with what is presented,” he said.
The council will take a final vote on the project at its May 6 meeting.