The crowded parking lot at Morton Plant Hospital will be expanded into Belleair beyond the back of the existing lot.
BELLEAIR – Morton Plant hospital is going to have a parking lot in Belleair after all. The Belleair Commission voted unanimously Jan. 22 to accept a new site plan that the hospital presented after several lengthy meetings with residents who previously had objected to an earlier version of the plan.
In October, the commission voted unanimously to reject the hospital’s plan to build a parking lot on what is now Druid Place and part of Druid Road. The hospital owns the half dozen houses on Druid Place and planned to demolish them to expand its parking lot, which is just over the boundary in the city of Clearwater.
The residents turned out in force then objecting to the plan. They said the encroachment into Belleair might be just the first step in further expansion.
Resident Tim Mariani was adamantly against the proposal at the time.
“There is nothing to keep the hospital from developing that land in the future,” he said. “I ask you to preserve the land and deny the request.”
Shortly after, Morton Plant began legal action to have the commission’s decision overturned because there was a lack of expert witness testimony to show that the community would be harmed by the parking lot.
Town Attorney David Ottinger advised the commission to hold another hearing and hear the hospital’s revised plans for the parking. Ottinger felt that if the matter went to court Morton Plant would win and the town would lose total control of the land.
At Tuesday’s meeting the residents did a complete turnaround. Mariani was back, this time representing all the other residents and this time in favor of the hospital’s plans.
“At the first go-around I was against this application,” he said. “After the rejection of their plans I was contacted by a member of the hospital board who asked me to talk. We had several meetings with hospital officials including Glenn Waters, the president. We gathered 20-30 residents who unanimously agreed to accept what the hospital was proposing. We felt a compromise was better than losing in court.”
Mariani said that there was one part of the hospital’s plans that benefited the residents and the town.
“There will be no development of that land,” he said. “There won’t eventually be medical buildings built on it, or garages. The only thing the hospital can do to that land, besides having the parking lot, is to restore the homes. It will remain residential.”
Engineering consultant Jesse Blackstock, who put together the new hospital plan, said there were considerable changes from the original proposal that was rejected by the Commission.
“We are moving the buffer from 70 feet to 112 feet from the nearest house to the parking lot,” he said. “We’ll be burying all the overhead wires in the area; there will be all new landscaping; the wall separating the parking lot from the residents will be 8 feet high instead of the 6 feet we initially proposed.”
In addition the residents of Ricker Road who will back onto the new parking lot will be given 30 feet to add to their backyards.
David Healey, the town’s planning consultant, said his review of the plans leads him to recommend that the commission approve the proposal.
“They have provided all the documents necessary for the parking lot,” he said. “They have fulfilled our concern about retaining the character of the neighborhood and they have satisfied the neighbors. My recommendation is to approve of their plans.
There was one objector to the proposal. Resident Thomas Kurey Jr., while saying he loved Morton Plant Hospital, didn’t like the idea that it would be moving into his neighborhood.
“I am in opposition to the encroachment of Morton Plant Hospital into Belleair,” he said. “I would request that the town preclude any further encroachment into the Town of Belleair.”
Ottinger said the proposal put forth by the hospital precludes any further encroachment into the town.
Then with little discussion the commission voted 5-0 in favor of turning one of their streets, Druid Place, into a hospital parking lot.
Morton Plant had agreed to drop the legal action once the approval was given.