Commissioners Split On Firmenich Property Proposal
A developer wants to build a 296-unit residential complex and 37,900 square feet of retail and office space on the 34-acre property off McMullen Booth Road.
A number of issues received attention during the City Commission meeting Monday night, including a proposal to allow a church to open in the Oakbrook Plaza and how to proceed with damage repairs from Tropical Storm Debby.
But the agenda item that drew the most discussion was the one regarding the status of the development agreement for the old Firmenich Citrus Center property on the northeast corner of McMullen Booth Road and SR 590.
The Richman Group of Florida, part of a company that bills itself as "one of the nation's ten largest residential property owners", wants to build a residential and commercial development on the 34-acre property, which would include a 296-unit apartment complex and up to 37,900 square feet of retail/office/service properties.
The issue, which has been been in the planning stages pending studies and approval from the commission to proceed, touched off a mini-debate among the commissioners as to the viability and practicality of having such a large development in town.
"I have a serious issue with allowing further sprawl of commercial development," Mayor Andy Steingold said. "How far north are we going to allow this commercial node to creep?"
"Nothing against the project itself," he added. "It's far away from the outskirts of Safety Harbor."
But Commissioner Nancy Besore, who lives near the area, was adamant that a development of this size would take away from the character and charm of her city.
"I live right by that property, and I'm not going to be able to sell that to the community. I can't sell it to myself," she said of the proposal, which calls for four-story apartment buildings not to exceed 15 units per acre or 55 feet in height.
"I don't mean to be offensive ... but this is not my Safety Harbor," she stated. "This is New York to me."
Vice Mayor Joseph Ayoub, however, wholeheartedly supported the proposal.
"I think this is a great opportunity for the city of Safety Harbor," he said.
"I'd like to see it a little more compacted ... but I think it's a great opportunity to bring 296 families to Safety Harbor who are going to be shopping on Main Street."
A representative for the Richman Group said the developer is willing to work with the city to meet the demands and restrictions such a complex would require, including tree canopy protection, wetlands preservation and stormwater management.
Studies will also be conducted regarding traffic in the area, an issue Commissioner Cilff Merz expressed concern over.
"My initial concern was traffic congestion," he said. "That intersection is already as built-out as it can be. I see a lot of congestion being added."
In the end the commission voted to go forward with the proposal, pending further studies, by a vote of 4-1, with Besore voicing the sole nay vote.
"I see a mess and I see sadness," she said. "To the developer I say go low. Go intimate. Go Safety Harbor. I beg you."