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College Landings is finally taking off

High-rise units, single-family homes and a commercial complex could sprout on the 78-acre tract now that a key city panel has approved its site plan.

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 9, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Seventeen years of delayed development, a bankruptcy, and many meetings involving residents, city planners, and Eckerd College officials apparently ended Wednesday with the city's approval of new development plan for the renamed 78-acre College Landings tract south of the Pinellas Bayway.

The Environmental Development Commission (EDC) unanimously approved the site plan for a multi-use development that includes single family homes, garden apartments, two seven-story apartment towers and a commercial complex.

"This will result in one single integrated community. The college is in favor of it. It would be a benefit to the residents," said Don Mastry, who represented both the college and the buyers, Crescent Resources Inc. of North Carolina.

Presently there are only 52 homes on a tract that originally was to include 260 townhomes and single-family residences. Crescent plans to purchase the remaining undeveloped 30 acres. For financial and tax reasons, the company must close on the sale before the end of the year, according to Mastry.

If there are no complications, construction could start in early 2002 and be completed by 2003.

Despite protests from some owners of homes already on the tract, the development was supported by the neighborhood homeowners association.

Henry Stein, representing the College Landings Homeowners Association, said as the result of negotiations that continued right up to the EDC meeting, the residents' group supported the site plan.

"The current situation of having a partially finished development is of no benefit to the residents or to the city. Some plan, one which can be supported by residents and the current development climate and market, must be developed to allow for the completion of the neighborhood," said city planner Jammi Shelton.

Those opposed to the project objected most to the high-rise apartment buildings. They described the proposal as a hurried plan that needed more study.

"'Eckerd College is saying sorry folks we messed up and now you homeowners must pay the price," said Donald McCreary, who said college officials and developers used "fear and intimidation" to get neighborhood approval. "Jenny (McCreary's wife) and I oppose this in the strongest possible terms."

McCreary also read a letter from another resident, Allen Henry, who called the site plan a "tainted and dishonest application."

Other residents had a different view of the project.

"The paranoic expressions by neighbors are unwarranted," said Leonard Block.

"This will be much better living in a builtup community," said Tom Oberhofer.

Selling the College Landings property will allow Eckerd College to eliminate debt and enable the institution to finance other capital projects, according to newly appointed President Donald Eastman.

College Landings was originally intended as a stream of income for Eckerd College, through fees for the leased land on which the homes were built. But the project went into bankruptcy and eventually cost the college about $9-million. Half of that cost came from use of the college's endowment fund -- an action taken without the approval of the Board of Trustees and leading to the retirement of the college's 23-year president, Peter Armacost, and the departure of the college's chief financial officer.

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