Palm Harbor developer and neighbors told to seek common ground

Pinellas County commissioners asked a developer to work with the neighbors on plans for 21.5 acres of land, outlined in red, wedged between Innisbrook golf course and the Pinellas Trail and Suncoast Primate Sanctuary.

LARGO — After listening to objections from the neighbors, Pinellas County Commissioners approved only one of two requests that would allow development on 21.5 acres in Palm Harbor.

The commission held the first of two hearings April 27 on a request from the Noell family for a zoning change from residential agricultural and single family residential to urban residential with a conditional overlay on 15.2 acres and preservation/conservation on 6.3 acres. The family also requested a land use change from residential suburban and preservation to residential low on 15.2 acres and to preservation on 6.3 acres.

The 21.5 acres is located to the south of 4706 Pleasant Avenue and is currently vacant. The conditional overlay would limit the number of residential units that could be built to either 70 one-story villas or 78 two-story townhomes. With current zoning and land use, 12 units could be constructed on the property.

Because of the size of the property, the land use change would have to be approved by the state. The commission voted 6-0 to approve the land use change to send it on to the state; but approval of the zoning change and the subsequent future of the project as presented would be decided at the second hearing.

More than 500 signed a petition objecting to the changes, and a number of neighbors spoke against proposed changes on the land wedged between Innisbrook golf course to the east and south and the Pinellas Trail to the west with the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary on the western side of the trail. It is adjacent to single-family homes on the north side.

County staff recommended approval as did the Local Planning Agency with a vote of 5-1.

Among the objections voiced by neighbors was the effect the development would have on the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary and the environment. The four parcels that make up the 21.5 acres are currently wooded, so many are concerned about the loss of greenspace and natural habitat in the area. There is concern about a lack of a buffer between the development and the Pinellas Trail and the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary.

Others talked about the single road access to the property and the potential traffic impact to Alternate 19, which is already a congested highway. They say a traffic study is warranted.

Robert Pergolizzi, who represented the applicant, disagreed with the neighbors and said the development would upgrade the neighborhood. He said it was compatible with the area and would provide a transition to the golf course.

Some disagreement surfaced between a developer’s representative who insisted that the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary had been contacted and had not tried to work with them. The Sanctuary, represented by attorney Lauren Rubenstein said that wasn’t true as did Dale Jacquay, president of the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary Foundation.

In a letter to the commission, Rubenstein said the development was not compatible with the sanctuary’s use of its property and “would create a nuisance environment” for the primates living there. The sanctuary also is concerned about the setbacks, which would allow the houses or townhome to be built near the Pinellas Trail and the sanctuary. Rubenstein said the sanctuary and its predecessors had provided a safe haven for primates, reptiles and tropical birds for more than 50 years.

Other neighbors are worried about the effect the development would have on their “very old neighborhood” with many houses on large lots constructed in the 1940s. They say the roadway that would be used to access the development is currently a dead-end cul-de-sac. The say it isn’t wide enough to allow access by emergency vehicles. One woman said her family owns the property on either side of the roadway and don’t intend to donate any to widen the road.

Pergolizzi said the development was aware that the road was substandard and would pay impact fees that could be used to improve it.

Commission Chair Dave Eggers was concerned about the scope of the project and the effect it might have on the community, the Pinellas Trail and traffic on Alt. 19.

“The scope of the project is too large,” he said.

Commissioners also were troubled about traffic and a lack of a buffer between the Pinellas Trail and the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary. Eggers said the developer wanted to build too many units.

Commissioner Janet Long suggested that the commission approve the land use change so it could go to the state. She said if the state approved it, the commission could consider the zoning request.

Egger said he wasn’t prepared to approve the zoning change which would allow the increased density.

“Its way out of line,” he said.

Commissioner Karen Seel said if the commission wasn’t going to approve the changes, there was no need to send it to the state. She agreed with Eggers that the intensity was too much, especially when considering the roadway problems.

Pergolizzi said the developer could get a detailed traffic study down by June, which is when county staff expects to hear back from the state. Seel asked it there could be a change in the proposed number of units or the development plans. Pergolizzi said he could talk to the developer.

Commissioner Pat Gerard asked that the developer and the neighbors get together and talk to see what would be needed to make everyone happy. Seel agreed that they might find some common ground.

Long said while the matter was at the state for consideration, work could continue to provide more clarity on traffic and density issues as well as other sticking points.

Gerard agreed, but sent a message to the neighbors.

“I’m inclined to let them (the developer) do something on this land,” she said, adding that they should all get together and make compromises.

“There’s something between 12 and 80 (homes),” Eggers said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

In other business, commissioners approved a request from Synchronous Media Group Inc. for the establishment of a development master plan for a residential planned development zoned property on 4.05 acres at 2625 County Road 95 in Palm Harbor.

A 30-unit single-family townhouse subdivision is planned at the location. No land use or zoning amendments were required.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.