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    Residents' response halts zone change

    Neighbors in Safety Harbor say they feared the landowner's plan to split a lot would hurt property values.

    By LEON M. TUCKER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000


    SAFETY HARBOR -- Geff Hicks is holding off on his plans to move back to his hometown.

    The 39-year-old Safety Harbor native, who now lives in Odessa, asked Safety Harbor officials for permission to split a lot he owns on Booth Street into two slips to develop separately.

    And despite a recommendation from the city's planning and zoning board to approve the request, a mass turnout of residents objecting to Hicks' plan prompted city commissioners to unanimously reject it Monday night.

    "Ninety-nine percent of rezoning is without opposition," said Commissioner Keith Zayac. "I'd hate to set a dangerous precedent of setting up spot zoning, especially when the neighbors don't agree with it. It's unfair to rezone something in an already established neighborhood."

    The neighborhood is zoned for single-family residential and requires landowners with contiguous pieces of land to develop then jointly. Hicks requested a zoning status that would have allowed him to split the property and permitted the construction of two smaller homes rather than one big house.

    "There are merits to both" kinds of zoning, said Ron Rinzivillo, assistant planner for the city.

    The commission's decision, he said, "is certainly fine with us and will give us some direction if we have some (future) requests in that neighborhood."

    Hicks said he requested the rezoning because he wanted options -- not to set the stage for the mass construction of cheap, smaller houses.

    On one lot, the 39-year-old said he would have built a house for him, his wife and 12-year-old daughter. On the other he planned to either build a second house for his daughter when she got older or sell it.

    "I don't know why they were so aggressive," Hicks said. "I can't speak for anyone who would have followed suit, I only knew what I wanted to do. When I purchased those lots, I kept them thinking I could build on them at a later date."

    At a Nov. 8 Planning and Zoning Board meeting, members agreed Hicks' request was consistent with the requirements of the city's land development code and comprehensive plan.

    Demitri Dampier, who said he is also Hicks' first cousin, lives across the street from the lot and did not object to Hicks developing the land. But he opposed the construction of smaller houses for fear it may decrease property values in the neighborhood.

    "We just want him to build on both lots," Dampier said. "I don't think he thought we were going to come out like we did (Monday) night. We don't have anything against him, we're just trying to look out for our neighborhood."

    Hicks says he'll look for a way around the commission's decision. The lots, meanwhile, will remain vacant.

    "The way they made it sound, it was like I was going to build a rat trap when 1,300 or 1,400 square feet would have been perfect for those lots," he said. "I thought they would like to have some houses across the street rather than some vacant lot that people can just trample all the time."

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