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    Car dealer's plans for condos go forward

    Larry Dimmitt Jr. heeds commissioners' advice and downsizes his condominium plan, but some still are unhappy.

    By JENNIFER FARRELL, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 21, 2002


    CLEARWATER -- Larry Dimmitt Jr. took the hint.

    After neighbors complained that he wanted to crowd their slice of paradise and City Commissioners suggested less would be more, the car dealership magnate scaled back plans for a condominium project on land he owns in Countryside.

    Cutting the number of proposed units by a third, to 90 from the 135 first requested, Dimmitt earned preliminary approval for zoning and land use changes that would clear the way for the 23-acre project.

    But the 3-2 vote split commissioners, with Mayor Brian Aungst and Bill Jonson voting against the changes.

    And still neighbors remained unsatisfied.

    "Don't mess with the plan," pleaded resident Steve McConihay. "Just enforce the rules."

    McConihay was among a handful of residents who urged commissioners not to allow condos on the land, one of the last undeveloped parcels in Pinellas County.

    McConihay went on to ask commissioners to enforce current zoning and land use regulations, which allow for just 2.5 units per acre.

    Commissioner Hoyt Hamilton joined Whitney Gray and Frank Hibbard, who said the issue revolved around private property rights and agreed upgrading zoning to allow five units per acre would be a reasonable compromise.

    Gray, who said her true preference would be to preserve the land entirely, pointed out that it is not realistic for residents to assume zoning is fixed.

    "Not in the most densely populated county in the state," she said.

    Aungst, who said previously that he could support the project at five units per acre, was persuaded by residents who said they purposely bought property in the area, knowing it was zoned for single-family residences.

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

    Portions of the area cannot be touched because they are wetlands.

    Gerald Figurski, a Holiday lawyer who represented several residents, said the planned changes don't make sense for the area. He asked commissioners to imagine a similar development being considered in their own neighborhoods.

    "What would you do?" he asked. "You would not be happy."

    In other action, commissioners voted unanimously to seek bids for the demolition of the fountain in the Clearwater Beach roundabout.

    -- Jennifer Farrell can be reached at (727) 445-4160 or farrell@sptimes.com.

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