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Briarwood project restarted
Plans for apartment complex on Seminole Boulevard to be renegotiated
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LARGO – Largo city commissioners agreed Feb. 5 to the parameters of a renegotiated agreement with the current owners of the Briarwood RV Park, who want to develop the 13.8-acre property into a 260-unit apartment complex.

The property at 2098 Seminole Blvd. was annexed into the city in August, after the commission approved an annexation agreement that would cap development of the land at 19 units per acre, allowing the exact amount of apartments the owners intended. The commission also approved in November a new land use designation for the property, termed “residential high,” a change that had to be approved at the county level by the Pinellas Planning Council.

Residents of the nearby Coastal Ridge townhomes and Palm Hill Mobile Home Park have protested against the proposed complex at both the city and county level. The presentation to the Largo Commission Feb. 5 was not a public hearing, but Barry Chase, president of Coastal Ridge Homeowners Association, raised several concerns during general public comment.

Chase questioned whether the planned drainage would be sufficient and whether the estimated traffic increase of 140 cars was a realistic projection for 260 apartments. The residents of the adjacent properties, who live in townhomes and mobile homes, have spoke out against the proposed height of the buildings as well.

“How would you … like to have a four-story apartment building staring down at your backyard with your kids out there playing or your wife in the back?” Chase asked the commission.

However, Tom Morrissette, president of the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce, voiced support for the complex.

“We believe it’s a good project,” he said. “We have a lot of businesses down there that will benefit greatly by the project just by bringing people in.”

At a public hearing in December, the Pinellas Planning Council decided to not approve the residential high land use designation for the Briarwood property, citing some of the neighboring residents’ concerns about density and building layout. The council “did not feel comfortable relying upon the city’s annexation agreement,” Largo Community Development Director Carol Stricklin explained.

However, standards established in a development agreement would require public hearings at the city and county level before the developers made any changes in the future. The property owners, Dockside Investors VII and BDC Investors II, acquiesced to the council’s suggestion to pursue a development agreement.

The proposed agreement outlines much of the same parameters the annexation agreement established, such as limiting development to 19 units per acre.

“The development agreement will simply cap the number of units to make it clear to the Pinellas Planning Council the exact nature of the product,” Stricklin said.

The property owners also have agreed to a preliminary site plan that places the apartment buildings further toward the interior of the property, away from the townhomes and mobile homes at its north and northwest borders. Parking and landscaping along the exterior provide the additional space between the residences, up to 150 feet from the southern border and 200 feet from the northern side, Stricklin said.

“By providing those very large setbacks, we feel we have addressed that concern, in addition to the required buffering between the properties,” she said.

Three-story buildings will be required to be at least 20 feet from the property line, and four-story buildings set back at least 45 feet, city Planner Jesus Nino said.

The agreement also specifies not only a maximum of four stories for any buildings, but a maximum height of 70 feet, which will allow for some architectural leniency in the design of the roof.

The 30-year agreement also requires the property owners to connect the development to the city’s sidewalk system and provide a bike rack. It also specifies a minimum ratio of 1.5 parking spaces per unit.

Commissioner Robert Murray pointed out that the development agreement gave the city more control and the nearby residents more say at required public hearings. By contrast, a planned project with up to 118 units would not have needed commission approval.

Mayor Pat Gerard requested that the agreement specify that the apartment buildings be placed toward the southern end of the property, away from the established residential communities.

“I think the surrounding neighborhoods would appreciate that,” she said.

If necessary approvals were obtained, Nino said the apartment project was not projected to break ground until “close to 2015.”

The draft development agreement also states that the apartments would be sold at market rate and not as affordable housing.

In other items, the commission also:

• Allowed the plans for a new, one-story Chase Bank building at 801 W. Bay Drive, within the Community Redevelopment District. The building will appear to be two stories, as normally required within the corridor.

• Approved the Public Works Department’s purchase of 16 vehicles for a total of about $1.7 million.

• Approved support of the Florida League of Cities’ 2013 legislative action agenda.
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