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    Commissioners delay decision on Harborside project

    By LEON M. TUCKER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 7, 2003

    SAFETY HARBOR -- Two hours and a lot of viewpoints later, city commissioners put off for two weeks any decision on a proposed project of offices, a restaurant and condominiums in the heart of downtown.

    No decision at Monday night's commission meeting means that developers of the Harborside of Safety Harbor will have to come back at the next commission meeting and face additional questions from residents and leaders.

    In the meantime, the city will loft balloons that will reach into the sky at the same height as the proposed building to give residents an of idea how tall it will be.

    "The message we're sending to our residents is we're looking at every detail, and you have to get an answer to all aspects of it," said Mayor Pam Corbino. "We're not giving the developers an open door to do whatever they want. We'll ask question after question."

    Village Partners of Orlando wants to build the five-story, mixed-use facility featuring restaurant, office, retail and residential space on one of downtown's last pieces of prime, undeveloped land right across the street from the world-famous Safety Harbor Spa.

    But to do so, Village Partners needs commission approval.

    "I'm not surprised at all," said John Marling, chairman of Investors Realty, which owns Village Partners, of the commission's decision to postpone the matter. The city's downtown redevelopment plan limits building heights to three stories, with no limitation on the number of feet; however, the commission can waive the height requirements to allow buildings in excess of the three stories to be built.

    At a Dec. 11 meeting, the city's Planning and Zoning Board unanimously approved the application. Still, the final decision rests with the commission.

    On Monday, a half-dozen or so residents spoke in support of and in opposition to the proposed development. The opponents largely cited the 65-foot height, drainage and traffic as cause for concern.

    Supporters think it's about time that the 3.3 acres be developed.

    Village Partners has a contract to purchase the land on the corner of Main Street and Bayshore Boulevard from Clearwater resident Walter Loick for $700,000 to $1-million per acre.

    If completed, the development will cost $20-million to build.

    In addition to allowing residents more time to peruse renderings at city hall, the city will conduct a "balloon test" before the next commission meeting.

    The test, which was suggested by Vice Mayor Keith Zayac, will enable residents to see what a 65-foot tall structure would look like on the property by inflating balloons and flying them to the height of the proposed structures.

    The next commission meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21.

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