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County moves to protect industrial land
Commissioners say no to rezoning for Safety Harbor development
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Residents living near a proposed apartment development on McMullen Booth Road in Safety Harbor want to preserve the scenic corridor provided by this stretch of woods.
CLEARWATER – The decision was unanimous, and Pinellas County Commissioners made it clear that preservation of industrial land was of paramount importance.

The commission, acting as the Countywide Planning Authority, was asked to make an amendment to the Future Land Use Plan May 7, for 34.6 acres located in Safety Harbor. The amendment would have changed the zoning designation from Industrial Limited, Residential/Office Limited, Residential Low, Residential Urban, Preservation and Water/Drainage Feature Overlay to Residential Medium, Residential/Office Limited and Water/Drainage Feature Overlay.

The southern 10-acres currently zoned Industrial Limited, fronts State Road 590. It is occupied by the Firmenich citrus processing plant, which is relocating to Polk County. The rest of the property is unimproved and contains woods and some wetlands.

Approval of the rezoning, which was backed by the city of Safety Harbor, would have allowed redevelopment of the property and construction of a 246-unit apartment complex that would have fronted S.R. 590 and an office building that would have fronted McMullen Booth Road.

However, approval would have resulted in the loss of 15.8 acres of land that could be used by an industry to provide much-needed jobs in Pinellas.

The approval also would not add to the county’s affordable housing inventory. The Richman Group of Florida had planned to build high-end apartments, with a one bedroom renting for $1,000, a two bedroom for $1,300 and a three bedroom for $1,500.

Safety Harbor residents, who live in neighborhoods adjacent to the proposed apartment complex, argued that the county had plenty of apartments, but not enough jobs. They also objected to the possibility of additional traffic on the road, despite studies that said traffic would be less, not more. They also didn’t like the height of the buildings – three stories in the back – or the loss of the wooded area and the impact of an apartment complex on the scenic corridor of McMullen Booth Road. They said the apartment complex would negatively affect their property values. Nearly 300 signed a petition in opposition.

The Pinellas Planning Council voted to approve the amendment, 8-5, April 10, subject to a number of conditions. Mike Crawford, interim director of the Pinellas Planning Council, said the majority had conceded that the change to Residential Medium would provide a transition between high and low density uses and that the Office Limited designation fit within the countywide rules.

The loss of 15.8 acres of the remaining 38 acres of Industrial Limited was a concern; however, amendments to the Countywide Plan Map since 2005 have already significantly reduced the amount of property available for a potential employment district, Crawford said.

Commissioner Susan Latvala expressed “great concern with the loss of industrial property.”

“If we keep chipping away at this, 10 years from now, we’ll find we’re a bedroom community,” she said.

Mike Miedel, Economic Development director, said the case was “kind of a poster child” for what’s going on, “nibbling away at industrial areas.”

“This particular property is probably too far gone,” he said.

He cautioned that objections from the neighbors would probably be heard if an industrial use was proposed, adding that while his department actively recruited clean, high-paying industries, such as information technology, other uses would be permitted in Industrial Limited, including warehouses that could employ only one of two people.

The real estate broker for the property has been trying to sell it for the past five years, Miedel said. It’s been shown 24 times, but the size and use of the property as it exists is not suitable for anything other than citrus, he said.

Rezoning the property would increase its value, he admitted.

“Industrial is the cheapest land in the county,” he said.

He said if the site was cleared, it could be more attractive to a potential buyer, due to its access to the airport and highways.

Scott Cullen, the property’s broker, said he had marketed the property “broadly” since October of 2008 and had no offers for industrial use. Some had been interested in mixed uses, including big box retail, grocery and mixed use residential.

The commission suggested that bad economic times since 2008 could be a factor. The consensus was to wait for a larger conversation on industrial land and employment districts.

“It’s not the right time to make this change,” Commissioner Charlie Justice said.
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