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Penalty is called on rink's tall roof

Palm Harbor is in a bind after the metal structure exceeds approved height.

By Theresa Blackwell, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008


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PALM HARBOR - Need a roof, a very large roof?

Unless a solution can be found, Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation Department could have an expensive and excess roof on its hands.

The open-sided metal structure is partially built over a roller-hockey rink in the Sunderman recreation complex bordered by Eighth Street and Delaware Avenue. Designed to cover 9,000 square feet, the roof is 33 feet tall at its highest point.

And that's the problem. Pinellas County officials are telling the builder this: 33 feet is higher than what we agreed to.

They ordered work to stop. And it has.

Neighbors are upset, too. The roof over the rink obscures their view, they say.

At a time when governments are facing drastic cutbacks in operational budgets, the $461,000 project - financed with public money - could face demolition.

Even thinking of such a thing makes Rick Burton queasy. He is the director of Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation, which is an arm of the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency, an appointed board that operates on revenue from a millage rate much like a fire district. It also gets fees from recreation programs.

"My goal is to find a resolution that everyone can live with," Burton said Thursday. "I don't think the resolution is taking the roof down."

What happens next won't be known at least until next week when Pinellas government officials are expected to meet with the Palm Harbor parks group and the contractor erecting the roof.

The pre-engineered roof alone cost $178,000. The contract for installing it calls for spending another $283,000.

The county government gave Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation two grants totaling $344,000 to pay part of the project. More than $260,000 has been spent.

Some neighbors on Delaware Avenue say the project was knowingly advertised at a lower height so the county's Board of Adjustment would be more likely to approve it. That board needed to grant a special exception allowing a recreational building in a residential area and a variance allowing the building to be built inside a 25-foot setback from Delaware Avenue.

In June, Palm Harbor's contractor told the Board of Adjustment the roof would be no taller than 24 or 25 feet. The board turned down the project because neighbors objected, saying the big roof would ruin views and also possibly negatively affect nearby property values.

Neighbor Martin Del Monte tried to keep an open mind as that meeting started. Burton had knocked on his door earlier and showed him plans for roofing the rink, which is across the street from his house. But after hearing concerns voiced at the adjustment board meeting, he decided to oppose the project.

Burton says no one tried to be misleading.

"At the meetings, there was no intention to mislead anybody," he said this week. "Now we realize there was some confusion ... ."

The issue got a second hearing in September. Burton and the contractor, Phil Phillips of Palm Harbor, brought a new landscaping plan with trees and shrubs, which would be a buffer, they said, between the rink and neighbors.

Board of Adjustment member Alan Bomstein moved to approve the variance with "a little bit of reluctance." It passed.

When the roof started going up, Del Monte saw it was too high. He circulated a petition opposing the project and 21 neighbors signed. He contacted County Commissioner Susan Latvala.

"She has been very responsive," Del Monte said.

The whole mess is now in the lap of Paul Cassel, director of the county's building and development review services department. He said Thursday that Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation must fix the problem.

Solutions could include:

-Removing the building.

-Lowering the building to the height approved by the Board of Adjustment - 25 feet.

-Having the Board of Adjustment review the matter again and possibly allow the building at its present height.

Latvala said the real question is this: "Something that's engineered like that - can you just lower it?"

The contractor, Phillips, says no.

"There's not a remedy to this building," he said. "It's a pre-engineered, steel building. It's designed to meet hurricane wind loads that we have here."

Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or 727 445-4170.

By the numbers

The roof is

9,000 square feet,

33 feet tall at its highest point, and cost

$461K to build.

[Last modified February 21, 2008, 22:08:34]


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