After rejecting a proposed office complex at State Roads 580 and 590 in August, Commission reversed course at its meeting Monday night, approving the project by a vote of 3-2.
Mayor Joe Ayoub, Vice Mayor Cliff Merz and Commissioner Carlos Diaz voted in favor of the project, with Commissioners Andy Zodrow and Nancy Besore voting no. In the first hearing, Merz also voted no with concerns about increased traffic, and the rehearing included much more detailed traffic projections and discussions from several different experts in the field. That was information Merz said he wanted when Commission voted to rehear the application after lawyers for the property owner filed a legal claim against the city, saying the denial was not proper.
The project will include two, two-story buildings comprising a total of 22,000 square feet. The initial stated use was for medical offices, but 9 Guys Realty LLC, which was part of the original application, is no longer associated with the project. The site plan had previously been signed off on by the city’s Technical Review Committee and unanimously recommended by the city’s Planning & Zoning Board.
In both hearings, Commission heard from residents of the La Playa Estates subdivision, which is across State Road 590 from the proposed project, who were concerned the development would add to an already congested intersection and make it difficult and dangerous to get in and out of their subdivision via La Playa Court. A key part of both discussions was the placement of the entrance near the south of the property. While residents and the Planning & Zoning Board preferred to have it on State Road 580 or immediately across from La Playa Court, officials from the Florida Department of Transportation, which maintains both roads, said the only safe place to put the entrance is where the applicant did. On Monday, that dominated the discussion at the quasi-judicial hearing, which shared aspects of a courtroom process, with Commission bound to make its decision based solely on “competent substantial evidence” presented at the hearing.
Marcie Stenmark, the city’s Community Development Director, began the hearing with a presentation that included City Arborist Art Finn providing a more detailed assessment of the trees that will be removed, saved or replanted on the property.
Katie Cole, the attorney representing the property owners, Vineyard Haven Properties, began her presentation by having a city planner and a traffic engineer that worked on the project sharing their findings, as well as mentioning that a traffic engineer hired by the city came to the same conclusion as the applicant’s traffic engineer that traffic would not be drastically affected by the development since the applicant was committed to making improvements to State Road 590 to help ease any burden of additional traffic.
Two residents of La Playa Estates – Chris Lord and Stephen Wurst – were granted “affected party” status for the hearing. Among Wurst’s concerns was that, in his opinion, the site plan didn’t meet Article X of the city’s Land Development Code, which says development standards should “protect the public health, safety and welfare,” while Lord had Mike Bosworth of Exigent Engineering offer a contrary opinion to the applicant’s traffic studies, saying the two state roads have a poor level of service and any additional development in the area would make those levels worse.
Joel Provenzano of the Florida Department of Transportation said he reviewed the traffic study from the applicant’s engineer and the engineer hired by the city and agreed with both reports’ conclusions, saying the project will not generate significant traffic and that La Playa Estates residents should see no more than an additional two-second wait to get in and out of their development with improved site lines after the project is completed, with overall traffic congestion actually being eased because of the road improvements the applicant has agreed to make. He said FDOT is required to grant access to a property, so its determination was to site the entrance as far away from the intersection as possible, as State Road 580 was determined not to have a sufficient level of service to support an entrance and FDOT could not force an adjoining property owner to provide access. He also answered several questions from Commissioners about the placement of the entrance, the required new south-bound left-turn lane and the extension of an existing north-bound right-turn lane to help ease congestion.
Merz wanted to know what FDOT’s options were for improving the intersection, and Provenzano said the developer’s willingness to add the new turn lane and extend the existing one as the best thing that could be done for the intersection, and would not only ease the additional anticipated traffic, but actually improve the safety and congestion of the intersection by allowing drivers turning right onto State Road 580 to not impede the progress of the much fewer number of drivers who want to turn left. He said if FDOT were left to make the improvements itself, it would take many years, as the project would need to be budgeted for, designed and paid for by taxpayers. With this project, the improvements would happen much quicker at no cost to taxpayers. He also said FDOT’s signaling team is looking into the feasibility of adding a flashing yellow turn signal on State Road 580, so cars turning left onto 590 would not have to wait for a green light to do so.
Zodrow asked why the proposed right-turn-lane extension didn’t extend all the way to the entrance, and Provenzano, who said he reviewed eight years of crash reports at the intersection, said that it was to cut down on so-called “Good Samaritan” crashes, where someone waves a driver through one lane only for that car to be struck by another one entering the second lane.
The applicant has one year to begin construction on the site or else it will have to come back before Commission to request an extension.
COMMISSION WORKSHOP ON RECYCLING FEES
Prior to the regular meeting, Commission held a workshop to discuss the recommendations from consultant Stantec Consulting Services concerning sharp increases in what the city pays to dispose of solid waste and recyclable materials.
On Oct. 1, the City of Clearwater, which processes Safety Harbor’s recyclable material, started charging the city $100 per ton. Previously, it didn’t change the city anything. At the same time, Pinellas County, which processes Safety Harbor’s solid waste, increased its fees 6 percent to $39.75 per ton. Stantec offered a list of recommendations to account for this increase, including a 5 to 6 percent per year increase in rates residents pay for sanitation services each year through 2029 to maintain current service.
Merz questioned whether residents would accept a 6 percent increase in fees if the city is paying $100 per ton to dispose of recyclable material when it would cost it $39.75 per ton to take that material with all solid waste to the Pinellas County Waste to Energy facility, where most of it is incinerated and turned into energy, essentially recycling in a different manner.
Based on Merz’s concerns, Commission agreed to consider at its next two meetings on Dec. 16 and Jan. 6 a proposal to raise residential fees 5.25 percent per year for the next five years, combine the sanitation and recycling fees into one charge and to transport recyclable materials to the Waste to Energy facility until such time that recycling fees come down. City staff indicated that if the proposal is ultimately approved by Commission, that it would launch an information campaign to educate residents on the changes and that residents would still be able to drop off recyclable material to the drop-off locations at Public Works and the McMullen Booth Road Fire Department, and those materials would be transported to the recycling facility instead of the Waste to Energy facility.
OTHER ACTION TAKEN
Outdoor storage at 901 Harbor Lake Court: Commission voted 5-0 to allow Davidson Commercial LLC to store signs and equipment outside behind a fence.
Commercial recreational facility at 855 Main St.: Commission voted 5-0 to allow a yoga studio to operate in the property that is now Cox Cleaners.
Countryside Cancer Center major site plan modification: Commission voted 5-0 to permit Team Rad Onc LLC to increase the building footprint at 3155 McMullen Booth Road from 7,962 square feet to 9,734 square feet and to add four vehicle parking spaces and four bicycle parking spaces.
Annexation request for 2450 Madrid Avenue: Commission voted 5-0 on first reading to approve annexing Candy and Brent Barnhisel’s property with a single-family home into the city.
Holiday Parade Grand Marshal selection: Commission voted 5-0 to choose Karen Errico from WHO (Women Helping Others) as Grand Marshal for the city’s annual Tree-Lighting Ceremony and Holiday Parade.
Commissioner Reports: While Commission rarely takes official action during the last part of the meeting, when Commissioners get the opportunity to discuss anything not on the agenda, Commission voted 5-0 to remove Frances Hill from the Planning & Zoning Board for what Besore said was “vulgar language” used in social media posts. Besore also thanked Ayoub for agreeing to her request to split Audience to be Heard, when residents are permitted to speak about anything they wish, into two halves, with those wishing to continue discussion on a recent Third Friday incident asked to speak at the end of the meeting rather than early in the meeting as is customary. Besore said a family member was in the hospital and she feared she might have to leave the meeting early and did not want to miss votes if that happened.