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Developer sues Dunedin for rejecting condo plan

The company says the city changed the rules for Dunedin Marina View during the process.

By SHEELA RAMAN
Published September 30, 2006


DUNEDIN - The developer of the Dunedin Marina View luxury condominium project has sued the city over its rejection of the project.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, contends that city officials changed the standards for the project in the middle of the process.

City Commissioners had no grounds to dismiss the project as incompatible with its surroundings because it had already been deemed compatible in a preliminary hearing, the suit contends.

"You can't change the rules of engagement after the fact," said attorney Ed Armstrong, who represents Kelly Prior, the applicant and owner of Dunedin Marina View.

The company is asking a judge to order Dunedin to approve its final site plan, as well as pay incidental damages.

Dunedin City Attorney John Hubbard said he is confident the court will dismiss the suit.

"The only way the court could approve this is if they decided that the city can't change its mind after approving the preliminary site plan," he said.

And Hubbard doubts the court would decide that.

"What's the point of having a final hearing then?" he said.

Dunedin Marina View was proposed as a five-story, 12-unit luxury condo complex at 715 Edgewater Drive, a site Prior owns. The property, now home to a two-story, four-unit apartment building, is across the street from Edgewater Park and is neighbored by two small buildings, an assisted living facility and a law office.

The legal battle centers on a six-page memo Hubbard wrote on May 3.

It was his interpretation of how compatibility, as defined in state law, applies to city code. From that point on, city commissioners took Hubbard's memo as a new standard for evaluating compatibility, he said.

"We decided at that time that we needed a better, more sophisticated understanding of the compatibility analysis that both our development code and comprehensive plan requires," he said.

In May, the city was debating whether to approve Stirling Place, a 60-foot-tall upscale condo and retail development planned for the southwest corner of Main Street and Broadway.

This project was approved, but Hubbard's memo, which came out of the debate, tightened the standards for what a project's "compatibility" with its surroundings meant.

"We weren't fully aware of what the legal standard for compatibility was until John Hubbard furnished us with his memo," said Commissioner Julie Scales.

To Armstrong, the memo is meaningless. "It was not an amendment to the land development code," he said.

Marina View met the criteria the code required, and that should have been enough to approve the project, he said.

The content of Hubbard's memo was not the city's only reason for overturning the Marina View Proposal, Hubbard said. At the final hearing on Aug. 24, many residents opposed the project. Robert Ray, an architect who lives in Dunedin, presented a perspective drawing of the project that showed it overwhelming surrounding structures.

"We had to hear what these witnesses had to say," Hubbard said.

"These are quasijudicial hearings," he said, referring to the City Commission's hearing on the project. Until residents spoke about how the project would block sunlight and airflow and invade people's privacy, the commission was not aware of the full impact Marina View would have, said Hubbard.

Armstrong said such considerations would not hold up in court.

"Thankfully for us this is not a popularity contest," he said. "We are very comfortable with our legal position. All that matters is the code."