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    Protests drive builder away

    A developer shelves plans for townhomes at the old Anclote Manor site. Tarpon Springs commissioners say they would have voted against it.

    By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 20, 2003


    TARPON SPRINGS -- The developer who planned to convert the old Anclote Manor psychiatric hospital into a cluster of upscale townhomes said it is abandoning the project after running into fiery opposition at Tuesday night's City Commission meeting.

    About 75 residents showed up at City Hall to express outrage over Lennar Homes' proposed 160-unit townhome development. Neighbors complained that proposed rezoning required for the project was too dense and did not fit the neighborhood's character.

    "You can't put 160 units in that space without it looking like an Army barracks," said neighbor George Petta.

    Angry residents wearing T-shirts with the word "Rezoning" crossed out snickered and hissed when Lennar Homes' attorney, Tim Johnson, said the company would reduce the number of proposed units on the property from 160 to 150.

    But representatives for the Miami developer said neighbors' demands to reduce the number of units even further or to build single-family homes would cut too deeply into the project's profit margin.

    "We don't think it works," Johnson said. "The market is not there for this project to be single-family homes."

    Although city commissioners were not scheduled to vote on the proposal, all five said they would have voted against the project if asked.

    "I am not convinced that this proposed development is the right one for this property," said Commissioner Peter Nehr.

    Lennar's plan to develop the 23 waterfront acres at 1527 Riverside Drive first hit a snag when roughly 100 residents protested the plan during a meeting of the city's planning and zoning board in January.

    Last week, city commissioners postponed a scheduled discussion of the proposal after the company said it needed extra time to meet with neighborhood residents about their concerns.

    The builder signed a contract on the property in June contingent on a proposal the community would accept. But eight months later it was clear the project did not pass muster as residents cheered and clapped when city commissioners expressed their doubts about Lennar's plan at Tuesday's meeting.

    Lennar's plan is the latest in a long line of proposals to redevelop the Anclote Manor property. Built during the Florida real estate boom of the 1920s, the main facility was originally 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.

    After he closed it, the facility became Anclote Manor in 1953. Later, it was called the Manors and the Northpointe Behavioral Health System, which closed in 1997.

    The part of the property that once was a golf course at the country club was sold for residential development and now is called 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.

    Previous proposals for the property included a juvenile retention center, a five-star resort and spa, and a brain-injury rehabilitation center.

    Tuesday night, Johnson left quietly with Lennar representatives after listening to residents' 90-minute litany of complaints, saying only he was "very disappointed" in the meeting's outcome.

    -- Candace Rondeaux can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or rondeaux@sptimes.com.

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