Plans for a controversial new apartment complex in Safety Harbor were derailed Tuesday after Pinellas County commissioners sided with residents who said they would rather neighboring land remained an industrial site.
Despite an appeal from Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub, commissioners unanimously rejected a zoning change needed to for the Richman Group’s plan to build apartments and office space on a former industrial site at State Road 590 and McMullen-Booth Road.
The project has stirred controversy in Safety Harbor for months.
In February, city commissioners approved the 34-acre project, which calls for 246 luxury apartments and 25,000 square feet of office space. Weeks before, commissioners told the developer to scale back the project after being besieged by residents who said the two- and three-story apartment buildings were out of character with the community dotted with low-rise bungalows. There were also concerns that the project would overwhelm McMullen-Booth Road with traffic.
The developer argued the gated community would bring in substantial property tax revenue for the city, and residents who supported the project worried what would happen if the land that used to be home to a fragrance manufacturing plant retained its industrial zoning.
That’s exactly what county commissioners want, though.
Approving Richman Group’s request would have meant losing 15 acres zoned for light industrial use. Concerned that suitable sites for factories and warehouses are being lost to residential development, the county adopted a policy of preserving industrial sites to protect and create jobs.
“We put that policy in place for higher-paying jobs. I don’t see a compelling reason to change that,” said Commission Chairman Ken Welch.
The Richman Group has 21 days to appeal the decision, which would then go to an administrative hearing, though Robert Pergolizzi, a consultant representing the firm, said the firm hasn’t decided whether it will go that route.
“We’re just kind of letting it sink in,” he said.
As for the Richman plan, MacLachlan said there was not much left for the city to do.
“We will no longer go forward with our land use plan,” he said.
Today’s meeting did not draw the crowds Safety Harbor City Commission meetings did last winter, when residents packed city hall past midnight. Residents, though, did show up to voice opposition, and county officials received 308 emails and letters opposing the project. A handful of emails supporting the project came in, too.
Ultimately, what swayed commissioners was the fear that green-lighting the project would cost the county future jobs. That refrain was picked up by opponents, too.
“We’re running out of jobs; we’re not running out of rental places,” said Stephen Rosenthal, of Safety Harbor.
While residents celebrated their victory, commissioners warned them that not to expect support if they do not like the next company that has plans for the land.
“You may end up with something you won’t like as well,” said Commissioner Janet Long.