Ozona residents fight to keep communities ‘unique characteristics’

Brian Smith, president of the Ozona Village Improvement Society, spoke against a zoning atlas amendment April 23. The amendment would have allowed construction of a 26-unit townhouse subdivision at 600 Pennsylvania Ave. Residents say they would prefer construction of single-family homes, which is allowed by current zoning.

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County Commissioners voted, 6-1, April 23 to deny a request for a zoning atlas amendment that would have allowed construction of a 26-unit townhouse subdivision at 600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Ozona.

The applicant, Joyce M. Couture, represented by attorney Jessica Flammer Koch, had requested a zoning atlas change from R-3 (single family residential) to RM-CO (multi-family residential with a conditional overlay) and PC (preservation/conservation) on 5.4 acres.

The conditional overlay limited the use of the site to single-family townhomes.

Staff noted that the site is adjacent to townhouses located to the west, and single-family homes and duplexes to the north and east. The property also is located near a church and elementary school.

The current R-3 zoning would allow for construction of up to 26 single-family homes.

The Local Planning Agency voted 4-2 to recommend approval of the change. County staff also recommended approval, stating that the proposed amendments were consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan.

Koch told commissioners that the Couture family had owned the property since 1957. They built two single-family homes on the property. Dr. Walter Henry Couture died in 2017. She said it was his wish that the property be repurposed so more families could enjoy it.

Koch said the conditional overlay was included to let everyone know “we will do what we say.”

She pointed out that building townhouses would allow for more greenspace than construction of 26 single-family homes.

“We believe it fits with Ozona,” she said.

However, several residents opposed the change. The county received in 34 letters and two petitions with 91 signatures opposing it. In addition, three residents spoke during the public hearing, including Brian Smith, president of the Ozona Village Improvement Society. Smith is the county’s former Planning director.

Smith said the opposition was not just about the zoning. He said the Couture’s plans didn’t allow for the community’s unique characteristics.

He pointed out several environmental concerns tied to the wetlands and mangroves on the property, as well as the proposed access to the new subdivision via Ohio Avenue, which is currently a cul-de-sac. The community also is concerned about additional traffic.

Koch presented information that showed construction of 26 townhouses would actually generate less traffic than 26 single-family homes. She also said the design would account for environmental concerns.

Still, residents of Ozona would prefer construction of single-family homes, not townhouses.

The commission debated all the aspects, including the probability of 26 single-family homes fitting on the property and the benefit of additional greenspace if townhouses were built instead.

The property is located in a coastal high hazard area, so commissioners also talked about what would be needed to build townhouses or single-family homes to meet requirements. The consensus was that both would need special design, such as construction on stilts or ground floor garages.

“This is a tough one,” said Commission Chair Karen Seel.

“It’s a difficult one for me,” Commissioner Ken Welch said. “I’ve changed my opinion twice.”

Commissioner Kathleen Peters pointed out that the site was located across the street from townhouses and duplexes were in close proximity. She said all the existing properties were at the height required due to being in a coastal high hazard area.

Peters also pointed out that building single-family homes meant more asphalt with multiple driveways. She said townhouses would maximize the greenspace.

Welch said it was likely that the site would change “one way or the other.”

“This has to have positive benefits versus what it could be,” he said.

He asked County Attorney Jewel White to outline the criteria commissioners should use to make a decision.

White said the matter was a zoning change, not a land use change, and staff had deemed to be consistent with the comprehensive plan. She said commissioners could consider testimony from staff and the public, pointing out the difference between “lay” versus “expert” testimony.

She said commissioners should look at whether it would be compatible with the neighborhood and any impact on infrastructure, which wouldn’t be a factor since 26 units can be built either way.

“That’s a wash in this case,” she said.

In the end, the commissioners sided with the community and denied the request.

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