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The height of frustration

Three years later, the neighbors of a high-rise still complain of traffic and noise.

By EMILY NIPPS, Times Staff Writer
Published November 30, 2007


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BAYSHORE BEAUTIFUL 

Billed as one of Tampa's most prestigious addresses before it was even built, the Alagon carried some hefty promises.

The condominium tower at 3507 Bayshore Blvd. promised high-end customized upgrades for every unit, hence the $600,000 to $2-million price tag. Stone floors, Roman tubs, 9-foot ceilings, well-appointed common areas.

No wonder many of the 47 homes sold shortly after they hit the market.

But where some see luxury and lavish living, others see a 23-story mess that is dragging down neighborhood property values and ruining the quality of life. For neighbors, the Alagon is a lesson in how not to build future high-rises along Bayshore.

When construction began four years ago, neighbors living on the quiet corner of Waverly Avenue and Bayshore complained about litter, noise and worker traffic. Then the tower's bright exterior lights flooded the streets, lighting up neighbors' bedrooms all night. Then came the Dumpster, the visitors' cars crowding narrow streets, and the disruptive power generator, which seemed to flip on randomly and errantly.

City officials have heard about the problems, but it may be too late to solve them.

"I've been getting e-mails on this thing for three years," City Council member John Dingfelder said.

More complaints

When Jim and Julia Waters bought their Bayfair Place home in 2003, they knew the luxury condo development would be going up directly behind them.

What they didn't know was that the Alagon's Dumpster would practically bump into their back yard, or that the generator would sit outside the building and require testing once a week.

Every Wednesday afternoon, the generator revs for a half hour and the Waterses cannot hear themselves shouting across the living room. Occasionally, it goes off accidentally and at odd times; its diesel fumes have set off their smoke alarm.

"If there's ever a power outage in the neighborhood, we'd have to evacuate because of the noise," Julia Waters said.

Plus, twice a week around 6 a.m., the Waterses are disturbed by the thunderous noise of the Dumpster being emptied by the city's trash crew.

They sent letters to City Council members and city staff a year ago, but nothing has changed.

Other neighbors have complained as well. Paul Clark, who lives across from the Alagon's south and only entrance, has contacted city officials several times about traffic and other problems that persist even after he repaved his driveway and landscaped his yard to block the view.

Other neighbors blocks away have felt the effects of the 40 new households and the contractors still working on the units.

Some Alagon units have not yet sold, so the contracting work is ongoing because every unit is customized by buyers. On a typical day, several construction trucks and vans can be seen parked along Waverly, much to the ire of neighbors.

Last year, Waverly Court residents tried to dead-end their small street to cut off Alagon drivers taking shortcuts to and from Bayshore. (The proposal was denied by the city.)

Alagon residents have also expressed disappointment to neighbors and the developer, though none would speak on the record for fear of hurting their homes' value. Some Alagon homeowners recently held a meeting to discuss the issues, such as promises of a Dumpster roof to shield trash and covered parking that never happened.

Craig McLaughlin, who represents the Alagon's developer Southeast Communities, did not return calls.

Some wonder if such problems will become the norm for the city, especially the Bayshore area, where at least two condo tower projects are pending and several more properties are zoned for high-rises.

Citivest Construction plans to build a condo tower on the corner of Bayshore and Bay to Bay boulevards, and the Bayshore Apartments near Platt Street are about to be razed for new development.

"Is this what the future of South Tampa is?" Julia Waters said.

Yet a comparable building nearby didn't seem to cause the same issues. Further south on Bayshore, construction on the 21-story Bellamy condo tower began after the Alagon but was completed within a couple of years. The 61 Bellamy units sold quickly for roughly the same price as the Alagon, and according to real estate agent Ed Gunning, "there's really no comparison."

Neighbors seem less disturbed by the Bellamy, he said. "Nobody wants a high-rise at the end of their street," Gunning said. "But the nice thing about the Bellamy is it's on its own block, so it doesn't cause some of the problems to neighbors as the Alagon does."

Guide for the future

A letter from Clark, the resident who lives across from the Alagon's entrance, caught City Council member Mary Mulhern's attention. Earlier this past week, she planned to meet with Cindy Miller, director of the city's Department of Business and Housing Development, to see whether some problems can be corrected.

That's highly doubtful, Miller said.

"It was rezoned a long time ago," she said before the meeting with Mulhern. "How far back, I don't know, but the Alagon did not have to get city approval like most developments do today. The building itself meets the various city and state codes that were set in place for it.

"I don't think we can go retroactive on those plans without legal issues coming up."

Dingfelder estimated the Alagon's zoning was approved 15 to 20 years ago, well before current City Council members were elected and before anyone could foresee the high-rise boom along Bayshore.

"The original inspectors looked at (the project) as if in a vacuum, rather than look at it holistically and how it might affect the rest of the neighborhood," he said.

He and Thom Snelling, the city's deputy director of growth management and development services, went out to look at the Alagon about nine months ago. Dingfelder organized meetings with city administrators and listened to residents' complaints. Ultimately, he was unable to change anything because the Alagon wasn't breaking any zoning requirements or codes.

Fixing some of the Alagon's fundamental problems - its only exit and entrance is off of a small residential street, the Dumpster and generator are just outside neighbors' homes - would be nearly impossible at this point, he said.

"Not to shirk the blame, but this project did not come before this City Council," he said. "No one ever saw the Alagon as far as plans go, but because they were approved at one time, there's not a whole lot that city administrators can do about it.

"If (Mulhern) has success getting administrators motivated to fix this, more power to her."

Still, looking at the Alagon and analyzing what went wrong isn't a total waste of time, Miller said, because similar projects are expected to come before city officials. Sometime in the next few months, the city will decide whether Bayshore Boulevard should be designated as a scenic corridor, she said, which will bring about several land-use changes.

"With several more sites zoned for these kind of developments, we need to ask ourselves, 'What do we need to do as far as additional codes along Bayshore?'" she said.

"And what lessons did we learn from the Alagon?"

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431.

[Last modified November 29, 2007, 07:39:39]


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