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Tampa Palms's leaders to consider office park

The city council would need to change development rules before building could begin.

By MELANIE AVE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001


TAMPA PALMS -- It didn't fly as a subdivision or the location for a new Walgreen's drug store. So now the question is, will the 3 1/2-acre Somerset enclave off Amberly Drive and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard work as an office park?

The City Council will decide at two public hearings set for 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. April 12 at City Hall. Before offices can be built there, council members must change the property's zoning and amend the area's development of regional impact.

Exactly what would happen to the two existing homeowners is unclear.

But both homeowners, as well as the company that owns the 15 undeveloped lots in Somerset, have given approval to Tampa-based Waterford Construction and Development to re-zone the property from residential to commercial.

Waterford wants to build 37,000-square-feet of single-story offices that would be similar to homes, according to city records. Each office would be detached and would "sell for over $300,000 each."

If the changes are approved, it would be the first major overhaul to the controversial subdivision.

"It is our belief that this proposal is far more compatible . . . and will generate no significant impacts to the infrastructure as well as being dormant during evening and weekend periods," according to a letter from planning consultant Michael Horner, representing Waterford.

Waterford officials and the Somerset property owners could not be reached late Friday for comment.

Two years ago, the Somerset Development Group announced it was buying the vacant lots for $350,000 with plans to strike a deal with the two homeowners and build an office park. But the deal with the homeowners fell through.

Somerset Development is a partnership which includes hair salon owner Joseph Caetano, family practice physician Colin Beach, dentist Louis Cerillo and former Boston Cooker restaurant owner Jane Theriault.

Somerset's problems began four years ago when the original builder, Craig Brown of Nouvelle Maison Builders Inc., tangled with the Tampa Palms taxing board about who would pay the $100,000 cost of a brick wall surrounding the subdivision.

Brown left the company and filed for personal bankruptcy, and the taxing board ended up paying more than half the cost.

Then Somerset's original owners, National Football League players Terrell Buckley and Lawrence Dawsey, wanted builder Steven Yeary, the new president of Nouvelle Maison, out of the project. They paid him to leave.

Somerset was conceived as Mediterranean-style homes with lots of less than an acre, priced in the $200,000 range. Lots were slow to sell. Buckley and Dawsey felt they could make more money by razing Somerset's homes and selling the whole property to Walgreen's. But the Walgreen's project ended in 1998 when residents persuaded the City Council to reject the re-zoning request.

The Tampa Palms Owners Association, which opposed the Walgreen's deal on behalf of its members, has heard little regarding the new plans for offices in Somerset.

"We want to do what's in the best interest of the two homeowners there," said Maura Lear, association manager. "If the homeowners are happy, then we're happy."

- Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3473 or melanie@sptimes.com.

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