Indian Rocks Beach approves plans for townhouse development

An artist’s concept of the planned development on vacant land at the north end of Indian Rocks Beach.

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — For decades, land on the east side of Gulf Boulevard on the north end of the city has been empty. Several attempts to develop the land during the past 20 years have failed and residents have been calling the area “blighted” and a “disgrace.”

Perhaps now that is all coming to an end.

City commissioners Aug. 13 unanimously approved a plan to create a planned unit development for the area, which is owned by the Taylor Morrison development group.

Hetty Harmon, the city’s planning consultant, said Taylor Morrison wants to build 32 townhouses on the property, which is south of 26th Avenue, west of First Avenue and bisected by 25th Avenue.

By changing the zoning and approving the PUD, the developer acquires the ability to negotiate certain aspects of the property. Without the PUD, strict code guidelines would have to be followed.

The biggest issue appeared to be the proposed height of the buildings. The code would restrict the height on the front part of the development to 35 feet; the proposal is 42 feet.

That request got reaction from the residents at the meeting.

“This is a huge gift to go 7 feet higher,” said John Pfanstiehl. “It is in no way compatible with the neighbors on either side of them. I urge you to resoundingly vote no on this ordinance.”

Resident Kelly Cisarik said she saw too many negatives to the project, including the height. She said she was worried what might happen to the property in the future because she said Taylor Morrison has recently gone into heavy retail development.

Julie Hoofnagle, a resident, said she was in favor of the project overall but didn’t like the height request.

“I believe the request from 35 to 42 feet sets a dangerous precedent,” she said.

Other issues that surfaced at a recent Planning and Zoning Board meeting were addressed by Alexis Crespo of Waldrop Engineering, the designers of the project.

She said there were concerns about the noise for the new residents from neighboring 18 on the Rocks, a restaurant/club nearby. She said a 6-foot opaque wall will be erected on that side of the development and large shrubs will be planted to cut down on the noise.

Short-term rentals were an issue and Crespo said the Homeowners Association documents will reflect that the new units can only be rented for six months at a time and only twice a year.

“There will be no short-term rentals,” she said.

When questioned later by commissioners, she admitted that once an HOA takes over, those regulations can be changed.

In exchange for the increased height limit, the developer agreed to a setback of 60 feet from Gulf Boulevard. A 4-foot decorative fence with shrubbery is proposed.

Two rows of 16 homes each will face each other with garages on the ground floor and a street separating them. The street will be built to community standards and will accommodate emergency vehicles and garbage trucks.

The development is split by 25th Avenue, with eight units on the north side and 24 units on the south side.

Despite the earlier concerns about height, the residents appeared to be in favor of the new development.

“This area was a complete blight,” said resident Tricia Priest. “I’m in favor of the development, it is a good way to use this property going forward.”

“I’m in favor of it, thanks to Taylor Morrison this is great for the future of IRB,” said Eric Meyer.

“There doesn’t seem to be a downside here,” said resident Don House.

Commissioners were just as happy with what they heard.

“We have an opportunity to improve something that people have complained about for several years,” said Commissioner Diane Flagg. “It has been sitting stagnant for a couple of decades.”

“People have been saying there should be retail on those blocks,” said Commissioner Phil Hanna. “I don’t see anyone coming forward with a checkbook to make that happen.”

Before approving the ordinance, commissioners want the developer to come back with a plan for added sidewalks and crosswalks within the development, more noise reduction on the north side of the development, plans for a bus shelter that will be identical to other shelters in the city and a color palate that will reflect a beach theme.

With that, they gave unanimous approval to first reading, changing the zoning to Planned Unit Development.

The units will all have three bedrooms and will range in price from $500,000 to $600,00. Once final approval is given and construction begins, the entire project should take about two years to complete.