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    Another Anclote Manor plan pops up

    The prime waterfront property has been enthusiastically courted by developers. But the relationships have never quite worked out.

    By ROBERT FARLEY, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 2, 2002


    TARPON SPRINGS -- Please forgive Charlie Attardo if he doesn't get excited just yet about the latest proposal to develop the old Anclote Manor.

    It seems the former psychiatric hospital, situated on 23 waterfront acres, has had more suitors than Elizabeth Taylor.

    The hospital closed nearly five years ago and was abandoned. Since then, said Attardo, the city's business services specialist, nary a month has gone by that he hasn't received a call from at least one person pitching a plan to redevelop it.

    A juvenile drug treatment center. A five-star resort and spa for celebrities. A rehabilitation center for patients who have had strokes or brain injuries.

    None have materialized.

    Now comes Lennar Homes, which has the property under contract until the end of the year as it considers a plan to develop the site with single family homes and upscale townhouses.

    But before it gets too far along, Lennar Homes plans to meet with Anclote Manor's neighbors next month to see if they'd support the plan. Strong neighborhood opposition to the proposal for a juvenile drug treatment center helped doom that plan.

    "If we are going to have lots of people against it, it's just not worth the time," said Rob Ahrens, a vice president in Lennar Homes' Tampa office.

    The contract on the property, signed in June, is contingent upon Lennar Homes coming up with a plan that will fit into the community, that the community will support and that will be profitable for the company, he said.

    "If we can't get all three of them, we'll pass," Ahrens said.

    Neighbor Laz Vostitsanos would prefer any residential plan to a juvenile drug treatment facility. Most residents probably would want the property to remain as it is, he said. But that's not realistic.

    "It's going to be something someday," he said. "You've got to pick the lesser of the evils, so to speak."

    "It looks like they're on the right track," said Vostitsanos, 62. "Other than the traffic, it isn't a bad idea, I don't think."

    Another neighbor, Geert Benoot, 43, a real estate investor, said, "If it stays residential, I don't have any problem with it."

    But Benoot said he would reserve final judgment until he sees how many homes the company proposes.

    So many plans have been proposed the last few years, Judy Besnard's first reaction to news the property was under contract was: "What now?"

    She would support a development of single family homes but isn't thrilled with the idea of townhouses.

    "It depends on what they're saying townhouses are," she said. "That could be an issue."

    Another question may be whether Lennar's plan would include demolition of the abandoned psychiatric hospital.

    "If I had to guess, I would say that it doesn't fit very well, especially in a residential neighborhood," Ahrens said.

    It will probably be demolished, he said, although the company is exploring other possible uses for it.

    The building is old, he said, but doesn't have any endearing architectural features.

    "It's just a big old square box," Ahrens said.

    On that point, neighbors disagree.

    Besnard said she'd hate to see it go.

    Benoot said he understands why Lennar would want to demolish it.

    "For me, I don't see that it's that beautiful that it should stay," he said. "I don't see anything historical about it."

    The main facility was built during the Florida real estate boom of the 1920s and was called the Sunset Hills Country Club. After World War II, an insurance executive turned it into a resort hotel called Upham House on the Gulf of Mexico.

    He later closed it, and the building became Anclote Manor in 1953. Later it was called The Manors and the Northpointe Behavioral Health System, which closed in 1997. The portion of the property that once was a golf course at the country club was sold for residential development and now is Pointe Alexis South.

    In 1989, when the facility was known as Anclote Manor Hospital, a prosecutor described it as "a medieval house of horrors" during a court hearing about his investigation into allegations of patient mistreatment. Some patients complained of being tied to their beds for weeks and locked in their rooms for up to a year.

    The property is assessed for tax purposes at slightly more than $2-million, according to Pinellas County records. It sold in 1990 for $3.75-million, records show.

    The property is owned by an out-of-state real estate investment trust. Laura St. Clair, a broker with Colliers Arnold in Clearwater, said there have been many proposals for the property during the last few years, but she declined to discuss them.

    "It's a terrific opportunity," St. Clair said. "We're just looking for the right use."

    Attardo said he received calls about the property from three developers in the last week alone.

    "People from all over the place have come here to look at this," Attardo said. "It's a beautiful piece of property."

    A year and a half ago, Clearwater neurologist William Hammesfahr proposed turning Anclote Manor into a rehabilitation center for patients who had strokes or brain injuries.

    The city changed some of its ordinances to accommodate a helicopter pad, Attardo said.

    "We thought that was a done deal,' Attardo said.

    But last spring, Hammesfahr said he no longer planned to use the facility.

    "I've been through so many of these things, I don't even get excited anymore," Attardo said. "But eventually, something is going to happen there."

    The property is zoned for residential or office space development, with the possibility of institutional use.

    Neighbors need to keep that last possibility in mind when they weigh their support for their residential plan, Ahrens said. If someone wanted to use the property for an institutional purpose, it would be difficult for city leaders to legally turn down, he said.

    Ahrens said they will explain to neighbors: "If you don't want this (single family home and townhouse plan), that could be your alternative."

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