Safety Harbor residents packed City Hall to hear the latest developments in the ongoing Firmenich property issue Monday night.
Representatives of the Richman Group of Florida unveiled two new plans for the property that addressed previous issues raised by the commission and the community, including reducing the building heights from four stories to three and the number of units from 296 to 276.
But instead of approving any of the three proposals put forth by the developer, new concerns as well as previous perceived drawbacks left the project in limbo.
“I’m having a hard time with the ingress and egress, number one, and I’m having a real hard time with the commercial use,” Mayor Andy Steingold said, referring to the proposed entrance to the property on State Road 590 and the 37,900 square feet of commercial development that would be part of the deal.
“I’d feel more comfortable if we could get another ingress/egress on McMullen Booth.”
The other commissioners expressed their concerns as well.
“In the past I said I’d like to see a 30 percent reduction, which is somewhere around 198-200 (units),” Commissioner Cliff Merz said. “I personally think the density is still too high at 276 (units).”
“Two hundred and seventy-six units is the baseline for us,” Richman Group development associate Damon Kolb said. “The price doesn’t make sense to us at a lower density.”
Commissioner Nina Bandoni said she is less concerned with the number of units than the actual site plan, while Commissioner Nancy Besore likened the whole process to that of buying a car.
“I wanted to compliment you for coming down from four (stories) to three,” she said. “But I hate buying a car, and I feel right now as though I’m buying a car. I feel as though you came to us with the worst deal first ... and I hate that.”
Kolb did say that the company has no plans to use the property for anything other than market rate housing, meaning no subsidized, or Section 8, tenants, and he promised that the commercial development would be limited to lower-scale uses such as banks and offices.
But ultimately, concerns with the overall size and scope of the project seemed to stall the issue in its tracks.
“There’s a lot of angst in the community. This is such a huge change for us,” Besore said.
“I’m not saying it’s a bad project. I think it’s a great concept,” Mayor Steingold said. “I’m just not so sure that the residents of the city of Safety Harbor are ready for that concept.”
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