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Property sale waits for March election
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If voters approve during the March 11 election, this property at 501 S. Walton Ave. will be sold to The Burnard Group for $813 million.
TARPON SPRINGS – Once, a nursing home flourished on 3.46 acres at 501 S. Walton Ave. But when the tenants vacated the property in 2004, the building was left on its own, in the hands of the city of Tarpon Springs but with little care or attention. Ten years later, it still sits empty, run down and dilapidated.

Now, Harry Burnard of Qualified Property Management in New Port Richey, which works under the name The Burnard Group, wants to buy the building and turn it into an assisted living facility for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

“We’re talking about redesigning the front entrance area, eliminating all the floors, redoing them, retexturing and repainting the walls, replacing all the ceiling tiles,” Burnard said at a City Commission meeting. “You’re effectively walking into a brand-new facility, outside and inside.”

Karen Lemmons, the economic development manager for the city of Tarpon Springs, said that the proposed facility would fill a need for elderly care services that are currently lacking in the city. The Burnard Group also expects the facility to create about 100 jobs that would earn a combined $1 million in annual salaries.

“(The building has) been deteriorating ever since (it was vacated), so just seeing a new project go up there will help property values, which are declining right now,” Lemmons said.

The city estimates the property will bring in $50,000 per year in property taxes, as well as $813,000 in revenue from the one-time sale and whatever development and building fees the Burnard Group accumulates. Lemmons also said the nursing home would serve to revitalize the neighborhood and hopefully increase property values of surrounding lots.

The only dissenting voice, City Commissioner Jeff Larsen continues to express his concerns throughout various meetings about the property. Although he said he does not have a problem with the Burnard Group’s plan for an Alzheimer’s assisted living facility, he said he questions why the company is choosing to renovate the property rather than demolish it and build a new structure.

“I’m concerned about the condition of the building and (the Burnard Group’s) choice to renovate rather than just start over,” Larsen said. “The building’s been vacant for a considerable amount of time and has been deteriorating.”

Larsen also questioned whether the city should have considered more bids, as the Burnard Group’s was the only one accepted. Housing Trust Group and Earth First Development Corp. had also presented a proposal to buy the property for $900,000 and build an affordable housing complex with 76 units, but the bid was rejected because the company submitted the wrong kind of check in its application.

The Planning and Zoning Board unanimously approved the sale on Jan. 13 and the City Commission voted 4-1 to continue with the agreement on Jan. 21. Larsen was the dissenting vote.

Now, voters will go to the polls on March 11 to vote on the sale. If approved, the development agreement gives the Burnard Group 30 months to complete the project before accumulating fines.

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