By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
Richard Doyle, who planned to build 24 townhomes on property that allows 12 homes, says he met the city's criteria for a land use change.
LARGO - A local property owner has filed a lawsuit against the city of Largo, disputing the City Commission's decision to deny his request for a land use change.
In the suit filed May 3, Richard Doyle, who planned to build 24 townhomes on a 4.9-acre property at Rosery Road and Lake Avenue, said he met the city's criteria for the change and that a commissioner's actions may have "tainted" the final decision.
With its current classification, the property allows 12 homes. The suit requests approval of the land use change and an award of attorney fees, court costs and damages of at least $15,000.
City attorney Alan Zimmet declined to comment on the suit.
The city's planning board also denied the land use amendment. However, city staff recommended approval.
Doyle said he objected to the behavior of Commissioner Mary Gray Black at an April 5 Commission meeting where his request was considered. Black, who lives within 500 feet of the property, made a motion to deny Doyle's request before asking the town attorney whether her participation would present a conflict of interest. After Zimmet said he had concerns about her participation, she abstained.
Another motion was made by Commissioner Pat Gerard, and the land use change was denied 5-0.
"I question how an experienced commissioner can come into a formal hearing with what appears to be such an obvious conflict of interest without at first consulting the city attorney," Doyle said.
Mayor Bob Jackson said his vote was based on his own judgment and the predominance of single family homes in the neighborhood, not on Black's motion.
"I don't think people are swayed by who makes a motion. I think they give more thought to it than that," he said.
Commissioner Andy Guyette said Black's motion did not influence him either.
"My mind was made up way before that motion was made," Guyette said.
Residents of the neighborhood, where nearby streets are named Peaceful Lane and Harmony Drive, said they're afraid Doyle's vision is at odds with their serene community. Eight people from the neighborhood opposed the land use change at the meeting last month.
"I'll say nobody likes the idea," said Donna Harrison, who lives across the street from the property. "The traffic would be awful, and it would change the whole idea of the neighborhood."
And Jerry and Adeline Roth, who have lived next to the property for 38 years, said they're not looking forward to a view of two-story townhomes.
"There's a fairly good chance we wouldn't hang around if this happens," said Jerry Roth, who lives on a lush 2.5 acres overlooking a lake.
"I had hoped my children would have this place," his wife added.
Doyle, who met with the Roths after he bought the property for $1.3-million seven months ago, said the neighbors have it all wrong. He and his partner, builder Gregg Gallagher, are planning an upscale, environmentally friendly development. They envision a park-like setting with waterfalls, gazebos and foot paths. They're targeting empty nesters for the high-end townhomes, which would range from $400,000 to $500,000.
Twelve units would overlook the lake and another 12 would overlook a botanical garden, constructed by former owners, Doyle said.
"It will be less obstructive and more beautiful than if we were to build 12 single family homes," Doyle said. "We'll dedicate well over an acre of land to trees, flowers and landscaping."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or at firstname.lastname@example.org