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    Car dealer's condo plan runs into opposition

    Commissioners tell Larry Dimmitt Jr. they might consider a zoning request for fewer than five units per acre for land he owns east of U.S. 19 near Sunset Point Road.

    By ADRIENNE P. SAMUELS
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 7, 2002


    CLEARWATER -- Car dealer magnate Larry Dimmitt Jr. has plans to turn 23 acres in the Countryside area into a condominium community.

    Already close to several Dimmitt dealerships, the property could supplement the Dimmitt holdings, said Harry Cline, Dimmitt's attorney.

    But homeowners living in and around the forested property are crying foul. They lined up 15 deep at Thursday night's Clearwater City Commission meeting to explain why their "little slice of heaven" ought to be reserved for single-family homes, not condominiums.

    "Now we are facing paradise lost," Antoinette Needham told the commission.

    The land in question sits east of Lake Chautauqua, a natural lake located a few blocks east of U.S. 19 near Sunset Point Road. It's home to all sorts of critters, residents say, including the state-protected gopher tortoises, diamondback rattlesnakes and alligators.

    In order to turn the place into a condominium community, the land must be rezoned from single-family residential into a denser, more urban building category. Dimmitt is proposing a community with 7.5 condominium units per acre, but the existing density allows for 2.5 units per acre. Portions of the area cannot be touched because they are wetlands.

    Cline brought several people to the meeting who testified that a denser community would be a better fit, and more profitable, than building and selling single-family homes.

    "It's very simple," Cline said. "My Realtor will tell you that (the land) isn't marketable or sellable without that."

    Most neighbors don't mind single-family home development, but they do mind what they think will be hundreds of "condo cars" driving down already narrow streets. They also say that U.S. 19 needs improvements before more cars are put on the road.

    "We don't need anymore progress in the area," said Don Sutton, a property owner in the area. "Changing the zoning will deteriorate an extremely beautiful piece of Pinellas County forever."

    The Commission agreed with residents that the property is unique and one of the last pieces of underdeveloped land in Pinellas County.

    Commissioners Whitney Gray and Frank Hibbard said they might consider approving the zoning and a subsequent annexation into Clearwater if the density were brought down to five units per acre.

    Cline wasn't happy with that.

    "I don't have the authority to change this application," he told the Commission.

    The Commission sympathized with the Dimmitt's plight.

    Said Hibbard: "I am a businessman, and I understand that this is a privately-owned piece of property."

    Commissioner Bill Jonson didn't support the idea at all.

    "My bottom line is, I don't think I've heard substantial competent evidence to support this," Jonson said.

    Cline returned to the lectern to ask if the rezoning request could be postponed. He said he needed to consult with the Dimmitts.

    Cline's got his wish, but he questioned the commission's treatment of the item.

    The city's planning department approved the zoning change, Cline said.

    "Traditionally, that should make the case," he said.

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