When Mike Brundage, a Safety Harbor attorney who lives in one of the neighborhoods adjacent to the Firmenich property, stepped to the podium during the city commission meeting Monday night, the proceeding took on a different air.
Operating under the rules of a quasi-judicial hearing for the rezoning portion of the Richman Group of Florida’s application, Brundage was allowed to represent a group of residents who were steadfastly against the latest proposal from the developer.
As soon as he took the dais, he began to politely yet expertly grill officials about the agreement, and the questions came at a steady and unrelenting pace.
“Is it your opinion, in your position with the city, that this appraisal comes right out and says this project will not have an adverse affect on the adjoining land, in terms of property value?” Brundage asked community development director Matt McLachlan.
“It’s my opinion that his conclusion supports that conclusion,” he responded.
Brundage asked Robert Pergolizzi, consultant for the Richman Group, if he was aware of any other offers to put a residential or industrial complex on the property.
“No I am not,” Pergolizzi replied.
“So then comparing the proposed use to industrial use is really theoretical, isn’t it?” Brundage asked.
“It is theoretical,” Pergolizzi responded.
In total the attorney questioned the two officials for more than 15 minutes, and then it was time for the other affected parties who had been sworn in to have their say.
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Those who took the podium included Steve Rosenthal, Russell Norman and Christina Jackson, all residents of communities surrounding Firmenich; each of them made salient points regarding the proposal.
“How can you come out and make a blanket statement that it (the complex) doesn’t have any adverse affect (on property vales) if you haven’t used one example to substantiate that claim,” Rosenthal asked of the developer.
Norman, who has been doing extensive research on the issue for months, then asked a question no one had an answer for.
“Fowler’s automotive sits right there where the entrance is going to be. Did anybody talk to him? I asked him and he said it will be a nightmare for his business.”
Following Rosenthal’s presentation, which was bolstered by a slide show of other Richman properties in the area, Mayor Joe Ayoub asked a light-hearted question.
“So I guess it’s apparent you don’t like the project?”
When the laughter subsided, Rosenthal responded, ”No, I don’t particularly care for it. I would like to see lower and less.”
As it turned out, that’s exactly what he got.
Following all the testimony, cross-examination, rebuttals and closing statements, the five commissioners began to discuss the proposal.
As the clock approached midnight, the commission came to an agreement that they would like to see significant changes made to the plans: buildings no taller than three-stories and a reduction of at least 30 units using the same footprint or smaller as the current proposal.
The developer agreed and said they would be back at the next commission meeting in two weeks with a revised proposal.
Afterward there was a feeling of relief from residents and satisfaction on the part of the commission.
"I'm so excited they listened to us," Jackson said. "Tired and excited."
“I’m happy that the commission came together and gave specific direction to the developer about what that city wants,” Mayor Ayoub said.
“I see a lot of smiles here. We still have a long way to go, but I think we took a step in the right direction.”
Brundage said he definitely believed the commission took the public's concerns into account in reaching its decision.
"I feel like the commission listened to the public, which is very gratifying to me," he said. "I think the dialog that happened at the end was very positive."
"Before this meeting tonight I thought this was going to get approved hands- down," he added. "The way the commission finally decided this meeting was clearly in reaction to what they heard tonight."