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County split on Safety Harbor redevelopment

By EILEEN SCHULTE
Published May 19, 2007


SAFETY HARBOR - In an apparent victory for city critic William Turkali, Safety Harbor's downtown redevelopment plan failed to win the approval of the Pinellas County Commission this week.

Commissioners dealt the city's plan a setback - at least for now - in a 3-3 vote Tuesday.

Safety Harbor leaders had sought the plan as a way to preserve the city's charm, but Turkali has argued it would violate his property rights.

Turkali bought his home on Bayshore Boulevard in 1983, hoping to one day sell to developers. In 1992, the city asked him if he would like his property to be included in the community redevelopment district. He agreed, and his land was rezoned retail/office/service.

Its value shot up.

Then last year, the commission decided to change the area again to residential, this time setting a 25-foot height limit on new buildings.

Turkali, 70, was outraged.

"Realtors that I've talked to said the property would be worth between $750, 000 and $800, 000 right now, " he said. "Now, if this goes through, it will be worth between $350, 000 and $400, 000 because who is going to build a one story house on a 50-foot lot?"

Turkali is referring to Olympia Development's condo project, which is expected to rise just north of his 50-year-old, two-story home near the Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History.

Turkali blamed the City Commission, specifically Mayor Andy Steingold, Commissioner Nadine Nickeson and former Commissioner Kara Bauer, for playing to residents' fears of a walled-up, concrete waterfront for political gain.

But Steingold said that wasn't the case at all.

"We approved the amended Community Redevelopment Agency plan based upon (the) sentiment and requests of the residents of Safety Harbor, " he said. "They did not want to see further sprawl of condominiums along Bayshore."

Steingold pointed out that when Turkali bought the property, the designated land use was residential.

At the City Commission's meetings, Turkali felt like he wasn't being heard.

So when it came time for the County Commission to sign off on the plan Tuesday, Turkali was there, though Safety Harbor officials were not.

He again gave his speech.

This time, he said he felt someone was listening.

In a 3-3 vote, the County Commission failed to approve the plan.

"When you downzone a person's property, there is a loss of economic value, " said County Commissioner Ken Welch.

County commissioners Calvin Harris and Karen Seel agreed.

"It doesn't seem fair that this property was downzoned without considering the economic impact, " Seel said.

Although he was sympathetic to Turkali, County Commissioner Bob Stewart wanted to approve the plan, saying it's not the County Commission's role to delay the approval process. County Commissioner Ronnie Duncan supported approval, but said, "With all due respect to the city, I don't know if we've been given a clear answer for why this has been handled this way."

County Commissioner John Morroni also wanted to approve the plan. County Commissioner Susan Latvala was absent. Because the vote resulted in a tie, the plan will go back to the County Commission for consideration.

Meanwhile, Turkali said he is drafting a letter to the city asking them to remove the restrictions and "let us remain as we have been for the last 15 years, " he said.

And city officials are wondering what to do next.

"I have to meet with the county staff to get (my) bearings, " Safety Harbor Planning Director Matt McLachlan said Wednesday. "I'm still scratching my head."

Times staff writer Will Van Sant contributed to this report. Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.