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    Apartment plan near ICOT clears land-use hurdle

    The City Commission approves the changes, but three nearby businesses oppose the project.

    By KELLEY BENHAM, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 19, 2003

    LARGO -- A developer wants to build as many as 300 apartments next to the ICOT Center, close enough for workers to walk to their offices or for students to walk to class at the proposed St. Petersburg College campus.

    The idea got initial approval Tuesday night when the City Commission agreed to land-use changes that would allow housing on about 40 vacant acres.

    Commissioners said the project complements the proposed campus and will provide a place for students and faculty to live without having to deal with Ulmerton Road traffic.

    "It will be an asset for people to work and go to school," said Commissioner Gay Gentry, who has visited the site.

    The property on the northwest corner of 142nd Street N and 58th Street N contains a large man-made lake and a few trees. It has proven unsuitable for large industrial or office development because the lake takes up most of the middle and utility easements run across it.

    The center has tried to market the land to businesses for 10 years with no interest, said Robert Pergolizzi, vice president of the engineering firm working on the project.

    It makes more sense to scatter apartment buildings around the lake and between the easements, said city planner Pete Pensa. The developer, Wood Partners of Atlanta, has a contract to buy the property from the ICOT Center if the city approves the project.

    The project would contain a mix of two- or three-story townhomes and garden apartments, said Wood Partners director Igal Knobler. The site plan won't be completed for several months.

    "We build high-end, nice stuff," Knobler said. "This is a good piece of land for residential use."

    Wood Partners has complexes in several southeastern states. The closest is the 424-unit Alta Key apartments in Tampa.

    Three businesses in the ICOT Center oppose the project for fear that it will bring vandalism, traffic and noise complaints.

    A lawyer for one of the nearby businesses warned that children would not be safe playing in streets near the center, and that residents and business owners are bound to clash.

    "No one has addressed the traffic safety concerns," said Clearwater attorney Lee Atkinson, who represents Stampco properties. In time, conflicts with residents could make ICOT properties less valuable, he said.

    City planners support the project because it will provide a transition between the commercial areas and single-family homes nearby. The property is bordered by single-family homes, light industrial businesses and a day care center.

    The city will vote on the project again if the county and state approve it. The developer will submit a site plan, probably this fall, and the city must approve that, too.

    If everything goes smoothly, it will be more than a year before the apartments are built.

    The city will see the site plan for the college campus in the next few weeks, said Pergolizzi, whose firm also handles that project.

    -- Kelley Benham can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or .

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