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Tampa City Council adopts Somerset rezoning proposal

As part of the project to build offices, the developer will buy two existing homes on the site and convert them.

By SUSAN THURSTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 16, 2001


TAMPA PALMS -- The Somerset section of Tampa Palms will become an office park for doctors, lawyers and other professionals, ending years of uncertainty over the ill-fated subdivision.

The Tampa City Council agreed Thursday to turn the small neighborhood off Amberly Drive and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard into an office park with buildings that look like homes. The action came as good news to residents tired of seeing vacant lots, weeds and for sale signs.

"I see a real benefit in this project. It gets an eyesore removed," said Mark Fitzpatrick, chairman of the Tampa Palms Community Development District.

The rezoning allows Tampa-based Waterford Construction and Development to move forward with plans to build 14 single-story office buildings on the 31/2-acre site. The buildings will sell for $350,000 to $400,000 each.

As part of the project, the developer will buy the two existing homes on the site and convert them into offices. The homeowners had been talking to different groups about selling for years, but never got a decent offer. They said Thursday they were relieved the issue was settled.

"We realize (the subdivision) isn't going to go anywhere," said Jack Smith, who has lived in Somerset for three years. "Most people thought it would be better used for commercial."

Construction on the buildings will start as soon as possible, said Michael Horner, a planning consultant who represented Waterford. Some could be open for business in about four months.

So far, about half of the new office buildings have been sold, said John Westfall, president of Waterford Construction. Owners will include doctors, dentists, insurance agents, attorneys and engineers. The businesses will be closed at night and on weekends.

To make the park more visible to traffic, the developer will lower the brick wall along Bruce B. Downs and Amberly and insert wrought-iron posts and columns. Tampa Palms had erected the wall to create privacy for the subdivision.

At a neighborhood meeting Wednesday, Horner assured residents that the view of the office park from the road will be attractive. In addition to cars and parking, motorists will see large trees, bushes and residential-looking buildings.

"When you drive by this site, I think you'll be pleased," he said.

Prior to the rezoning, the status of Somerset had been in limbo for years. It was developed as a 17-home subdivision, but only two lots sold. Several of the lots abut noisy Bruce B. Downs. Walgreens also considered building on the site, but abandoned plans because neighbors did not want a busy drugstore at the intersection.

The idea of turning it into an office park surfaced a few years ago when a group of local professionals led by Joseph Caetano, owner of the Bostonian Hair Studios and Day Spa, bought the undeveloped lots. They tried to strike a deal with the two homeowners living in Somerset, but it fell through.

The original builder, Craig Brown of Nouvelle Maison Builders Inc., tangled with Tampa Palms CDD over paying for the wall, then left the company and filed bankruptcy.

Somerset's owners, National Football League players Terrell Buckley and Lawrence Dawsey, wanted the new president of Nouvelle Maison out of the project and eventually paid him to leave. They considered razing the existing homes and selling the property to Walgreens, but the City Council denied the rezoning because of residents' concerns.

- Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 226-3463 or thurston@sptimes.com.

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