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Firmenich Decision Considered a Victory For All Sides

Residents, city commissioners and even the developer all seemed pleased with the outcome of Monday's marathon meeting in Safety Harbor.

When Mike Brundage, a Safety Harbor attorney who lives in one of the neighborhoods adjacent to the Firmenich property, stepped to the podium during the city commission meeting Monday night, the proceeding took on a different air.

Operating under the rules of a quasi-judicial hearing for the rezoning portion of the Richman Group of Florida’s application, Brundage was allowed to represent a group of residents who were steadfastly against the latest proposal from the developer.

As soon as he took the dais, he began to politely yet expertly grill officials about the agreement, and the questions came at a steady and unrelenting pace.

“Is it your opinion, in your position with the city, that this appraisal comes right out and says this project will not have an adverse affect on the adjoining land, in terms of property value?” Brundage asked community development director Matt McLachlan.

“It’s my opinion that his conclusion supports that conclusion,” he responded.

Brundage asked Robert Pergolizzi, consultant for the Richman Group, if he was aware of any other offers to put a residential or industrial complex on the property.

“No I am not,” Pergolizzi replied. 

“So then comparing the proposed use to industrial use is really theoretical, isn’t it?” Brundage asked. 

“It is theoretical,” Pergolizzi responded.

In total the attorney questioned the two officials for more than 15 minutes, and then it was time for the other affected parties who had been sworn in to have their say. 

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Those who took the podium included Steve Rosenthal, Russell Norman and Christina Jackson, all residents of communities surrounding Firmenich; each of them made salient points regarding the proposal.

“How can you come out and make a blanket statement that it (the complex) doesn’t have any adverse affect (on property vales) if you haven’t used one example to substantiate that claim,” Rosenthal asked of the developer.

Norman, who has been doing extensive research on the issue for months, then asked a question no one had an answer for. 

“Fowler’s automotive sits right there where the entrance is going to be. Did anybody talk to him? I asked him and he said it will be a nightmare for his business.” 

Following Rosenthal’s presentation, which was bolstered by a slide show of other Richman properties in the area, Mayor Joe Ayoub asked a light-hearted question. 

“So I guess it’s apparent you don’t like the project?”

When the laughter subsided, Rosenthal responded, ”No, I don’t particularly care for it. I would like to see lower and less.”

As it turned out, that’s exactly what he got.

Following all the testimony, cross-examination, rebuttals and closing statements, the five commissioners began to discuss the proposal.

As the clock approached midnight, the commission came to an agreement that they would like to see significant changes made to the plans: buildings no taller than three-stories and a reduction of at least 30 units using the same footprint or smaller as the current proposal.

The developer agreed and said they would be back at the next commission meeting in two weeks with a revised proposal.

Afterward there was a feeling of relief from residents and satisfaction on the part of the commission.

"I'm so excited they listened to us," Jackson said. "Tired and excited."

“I’m happy that the commission came together and gave specific direction to the developer about what that city wants,” Mayor Ayoub said. 

“I see a lot of smiles here. We still have a long way to go, but I think we took a step in the right direction.”

Brundage said he definitely believed the commission took the public's concerns into account in reaching its decision.

"I feel like the commission listened to the public, which is very gratifying to me," he said. "I think the dialog that happened at the end was very positive."

"Before this meeting tonight I thought this was going to get approved hands- down," he added. "The way the commission finally decided this meeting was clearly in reaction to what they heard tonight."

Michael February 06, 2013 at 07:32 PM
Convicted felons can be a neighbor to any of us. My problem is the government paying the rent. The last time I checked, we the people are the government and I don't much like my taxes going to support investors tax exemptions. Government paid rent only guarantees the investors will be paid not the taxes and not a beautiful complex. Forgive me, but your words don't sound like you feel for your neighbors loss. By the way I embrace change, but not reckless change that doesn't take into account the negative impact on the surrounding community. At the meeting a business individual spoke out in favor of the existing plan, said they were appalled, then suggested those against were discriminatory for their concern for over development. To me your comment is flawed and by virtue of Monday nights continuance, way to eager to ignore your neighbors legitimized concerns.
Dee Dokumaci February 07, 2013 at 02:14 AM
Very Well Put Michael...
Mike Shaw February 10, 2013 at 08:29 PM
This is not a victory for the people of Safety Harbor! Once the developer make the money they will be long gone and the local residents, the community of Safety Harbor and elected city officials will be at the mercy of potentially poor management and poor upkeep, potential low-income housing, and growing traffic problem. I have nothing against low-income housing and lived in such a place as a child. What I have a problem with is CENTRALIZED low-income housing. It doesn't work! It becomes a hub for criminal activity and a bad reputation can easily be created. That is why most cities are removing these centralized housings and disbursing the renters into the community where they have more pride in where they live. Also, think about the potential traffic which is a mess on 590. Add in foot traffic from kids or adults crossing to go to the Hess gas station or Publix and you have a dangerous, overcrowded bottleneck. Also, if the developer reduces the number of floors, don't you think they will try to maximize their profits by lowering project costs and installing cheaper internal fixtures and cut corners to make the numbers more atteractive? Nice townhomes like at the entrance on Mainstreet would be more appropriate.
Dee Dokumaci February 11, 2013 at 12:50 AM
Hey Mike, this is exactly my concern as well as many others who are directly affected by this project & as you described townhomes such as entrance on Main Street could work but that still doesn't help with traffic problem, I still feel a country club with a golf course would be the best choice, I am telling you that will also bring the property values sky high, look at the house values around Bellaire, Clearwater, Dunedin, Tarpon Springs golf course properties, our town needs this, that's what makes properties prime real estate, it would bring so much revenue to our town, I wish this could be possible, why is it so necessary to have bunch of brick dwellings that takes away charm from our town, please City Officials rethink this thoroughly, lets be green conscience & breath in the fresh air, enjoy the beautiful grounds this property could be! Long time ago I used to live in a beautiful subdivision called Walden Lake in Plant City, it was a gorgeous place which had a beautiful Country Club & Golf Course plus its own bank, grocery store, salon, travel agency, medical offices among other necessary businesses a community usually has, that place had so much charm & it still does, they are very careful about who gets access to build there is an association that handles all that, here's the link http://www.waldenlake.org/ so I strongly believe we can achieve this kind charming community right here in Safety Harbor for all of us & future generations, thank you!
jarine February 12, 2013 at 10:56 AM
I still think 3 stories is too high. It makes for an institutionalized feeling. I like that the commissioners recommended the developer change the facade to fit in with Safety Harbor; i.e. Southern Architecture feeling. I heard at a Westshore Alliance meeting, that the general direction of developers today is to create upscale apartments because folks that used to be able to buy condos/townhomes have had their credit ruined when the economy tanked. The feeling is the apartments being developed today will eventually be turned into condos/townhomes once the economy and credit reports improve. Don't know if that's true overall..but just mentioning what I heard from a Tampa developer perspective.

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