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Pinellas commissioners deny Safety Harbor apartment project

BY CHRISTOPHER O’DONNELL Tribune staff
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CLEARWATER -

Pinellas County commissioners this morning rejected a zoning change needed to build a controversial apartment project in Safety Harbor.

The Richman Group’s plan to build apartments and office space on a former industrial site at State Road 590 and McMullen Booth Road has split Safety Harbor for months.

In February, city commissioners approved the 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 concerned about the development’s traffic and environmental impacts.

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 to rezone 34.5 acres for residential development would have meant losing 15 acres zoned for light industrial use. Pinellas County has rezoned some of its industrially zoned land in recent years, and that’s property county officials see as key for creating new jobs. So they adopted a policy not to rezone industrial property, unless there was a good reason.

Commissioners didn’t find that in the Richman Group’s request, which they denied unanimously.

“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.

Today’s meeting did not draw the crowds past Safety Harbor City Commission meetings did. Residents, though, did show up to voice opposition, and county officials received 302 emails opposing the project. A handful of emails supporting the project came in, too, and Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub argued on its behalf today.

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.

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