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Ybor residents, 717 Parking spar over land use, validity of records

717 alleges they asked for properties to be zoned for parking 23 years ago and that the city lost the record. Residents question that story.
Ybor residents want to prevent the acre of Fifth Avenue vacant land in the bottom right hand corner from becoming a parking lot.
Ybor residents want to prevent the acre of Fifth Avenue vacant land in the bottom right hand corner from becoming a parking lot. [ Courtesy of Google Earth ]
Published Jan. 6|Updated Jan. 7

TAMPA — Jason and John Accardi have said the neighborhood controversy surrounding their 1916 and 1918 E. Fifth Ave. properties is simply a clerical error.

The Accardis say they submitted a request 23 years ago that the city misplaced for those Ybor City lots to be zoned for use by their 717 Parking, which has at least 40 parking lots throughout downtown, Channelside and Ybor. They also say they have a copy of the request.

City staff seems to agree they lost the record and have said, to make up for that error, the acre should now be zoned for parking.

But Ybor residents and City Council argue this needs to be treated as more than a bookkeeping mistake. Residents fear a parking lot will disrupt the neighborhood.

“Parking lots are loud,” Ybor realtor Joe Caldwell said. “People drink in them. They leave trash. Lights will be shining into people’s bedrooms.”

They also question whether a zoning request really was submitted 23 years ago.

“If they get the parking lot, does that mean that anyone can claim their property has the wrong zoning and demand it gets changed based on a document that the city doesn’t have?” Ybor resident David Bailey said.

City Council members also wonder if this could set precedent.

“If the city cannot provide evidence that the document existed on the city side, what is the protocol of the city regarding that?” Councilman Bill Carlson said at the City Council meeting on Oct. 20. “If someone said, ‘I got married 10 years ago,’ and you look at the Clerk of the Courts documents and it doesn’t say that, but you say, ‘I sent them a letter,’ does that count?”

For now, the property remains in limbo while the city considers that question and searches for their copy of the record.

“That’s the basis of this whole case right now, the documents,” Councilman Orlando Gudes, who represents Ybor, said at the October meeting.

As of Dec. 7, according to an email sent from the City Attorney’s office to Ybor resident Chris Currie, the city has yet to find rezoning records from 2000 pertaining to those properties. Currie shared the email with the Tampa Bay Times.

Citing this as an ongoing legal issue, the city and the Accardis declined requests for comment.

“The Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association has been waging a David vs Goliath battle against ... 717 Parking,” said Bailey, the association vice president. “So far, we’re getting squashed.”

Related: Effort to save Tampa’s historic Jackson House stalled by neighbors

The issue began 23 years ago, when the city announced that all vacant Ybor lots would be rezoned as mixed use, a measure they hoped would promote residential developments. Mixed use properties cannot be used as full time parking lots.

But a property owner could have opted out of the rezoning before a set deadline.

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The city does have two letters dated March 8, 2000, in which the Accardis requested that eight lots – some that they owned and others that they leased and later purchased — remain zoned for commercial use, which allows for parking.

Neither of those letters include 1916 or 1918 E. Fifth Ave., which they leased at the time and later bought.

In letters to the city, the Accardis say those lots have been used for parking for 30 years.

But Bailey, whose lived in Ybor off and on for 20 years, and Currie, whose lived across from those lots for seven years, said they’ve never seen cars parked there.

Bailey said he never worried those properties would be used for parking until a 717 sign was placed on it in early 2021.

That sign, Bailey said, is what sparked the city to cite 717 for a code enforcement violation in March 2021.

City records show the Accardis argued the lot was zoned for parking. The city’s office of Land Development Coordination denied their claim in August 2021.

Around two weeks later, that office reversed their decision and recommended zoning the property for parking, based on a document that the Accardis provided. It was a copy of a letter dated March 8, 2000, that was allegedly found in Accardi storage, asking for 1916 and 1918 E. Fifth Ave. to remain zoned for commercial use.

During a hearing with an independent special magistrate in May, the Accardis’ consultant Steve Michelini claimed to have hand delivered a copy of that letter to the city in 2000.

“For some reason the city made a mistake and missed this one,” Jason Accardi said in his testimony during the hearing. “Luckily, I was able to find this letter 20 years later.”

He said the record must have been misplaced and the lots accidentally rezoned without 717 being informed.

The special magistrate upheld the recommendation to zone the lots for parking.

But some question the validity of the letter. Currie compared it to the two 717 letters that the city does have on file. Those two have identical letterhead. The letter in question has different letterhead.

“They supposedly sent three letters to the same person about the same thing on the same day, but on different letterhead?” Currie said. “And the one that is different is the one that was supposedly lost?”

At the hearing, during his testimony, Accardi denied fabricating the letter. “We just went back through records to try to figure out what we submitted,” he said.

Caldwell also questions the letter but said, even if it is real “and the city failed to do their job back then,” it should be too late to add parking to those lots.

Residents, he said, purchased homes in that area of Ybor believing they were a few blocks from the weekend noise. “If this is the city’s fault, the Accardis need to go after the city. Don’t hurt the neighborhood.”

Correction: Steve Michelini is a consultant for the Accardis. This story has been updated to correct a reporting error.