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South Tampa

Developers back down in face of opposition

Separate plans for a hotel and an office building are withdrawn after residents in both neighborhoods take a stand.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 21, 2003

Call them a squeaky wheel or soldiers in the war against change.

Either way, they stood up for causes and won.

Opponents of two development projects in South Tampa claimed victory last week when developers withdrew plans rather than state their case to the City Council.

"It can work," declared Vicki Pollyea after neighborhood opposition killed a plan to open a hotel near her house on Moody Avenue.

For months, Pollyea and several neighbors fought a proposal to convert the 1301 SoHo apartment complex into a Homestead Suites. They argued it would disrupt their neighborhood and destroy the buffer between homes and businesses on Howard Avenue.

They refused to accept any compromises.

In Beach Park, residents along Mariner Street won a similar battle involving an office project.

Highwood Properties wanted to close Bay Center Drive along Old Tampa Bay to make room for two, seven-story office buildings. Neighbors pounded their fists against the plan, saying the city should not give up a scenic, public street.

"We did it," said Larry Martin, who lives in a condo on Mariner.

Residents planned to pack the City Council meeting on Feb. 13 to show their unity. They even lined up a bus.

Martin cheered the developer's change of heart but remained suspicious of future plans. Community criticism shot down a similar plan in 1997.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they come back with something else," he said.

David Mechanikcq, an attorney representing Highwoods, said the developer hopes to redesign the project without closing the street. Highwoods has an option on -- but hasn't bought -- the existing office park.

Revising the project will likely mean increasing the buildings to about nine stories, which the current zoning allows, he said.

Mechanik, who also represented the proposed hotel developer, said neighborhood opposition played a factor in the decisions to drop the requests, both set for council on Feb. 13. Prior to the council dates, developers held meetings with neighbors to hear their concerns and talk about compromises.

In the end, the developers figured opposition was too great. They knew gaining council's support would be a struggle. Every council member is up for election in March.

Community leaders praised the homeowners for taking a stand.

"If they can get together, they can make change," said Sue Lyon, president of Tampa Homeowners, an Association of Neighborhoods, better known as THAN.

Lyon urged developers to present their ideas to neighbors before investing in projects or asking council for special consideration.

"We're not trying to be difficult," she said. "We just try to stick by the rules."

-- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or .

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