Commission rejects ordinance amid pressure from concerned residents
To say Safety Harbor City Hall was filled to capacity on Monday night would be a gross understatement—prior to the start of the bimonthly commission meeting, the public safety officer questioned whether the room was over the maximum occupancy limit.
Among those packing the place were former mayors, commissioners and board members, as well as dozens of concerned residents, merchants and property owners.
(Full disclosure: One attendee who fell into the singular category of former commissioner/merchant/property owner/concerned citizen was the owner of Safety Harbor Connect’s parent company, Richard Blake.)
The SRO crowd had assembled to hear the commission address a number of proposed amendments to the city’s comprehensive zoning and land development code…actually, much of the group was there for one ordinance in particular, 2016-13, which deals with the thorny and complex subject of legal nonconforming lots.
During prior reviews of the Downtown Master Plan, the commission agreed to consider requiring two or more legal nonconforming lots developed with one home straddling the lot lines to be combined into one parcel prior to the issuance of a demolition permit. The planning and zoning board approved the proposal last month.
City staff stated the ordinance would affect just 49 downtown parcels in the R-1, R-2 and TND-2 districts.
But the idea of losing property value, combined with being told how to develop their lots, was enough to get more than two-dozen residents to voice their vehement opposition to the proposal on Monday.
“I own two of those 47 properties…and if I want to sell them as two lots, I think I should be allowed to do that,” Diane Turscak said, noting the number of nonconforming lots in the city’s R2 district. “You’re making two of my properties much less valuable, and I paid property taxes up the ying yang on those properties.”
“I also have one of those 49 properties that you have been talking about,” Brian LaPointe said. “My grandfather has owned that piece of property…for over 40 years…and this ordinance has no right to tell me that I can’t build two houses or one house on it.”
“That’s what zoning is for,” he continued. “You guys don’t need to get involved. You’ve got better things to worry about than worrying about somebody’s property.”
“A very wise man once lectured me—(he) said you never mess with another man’s livelihood. And if you go forward with this vote, that’s exactly what you’re gonna be doing,” resident and occasional Safety Harbor Connect blogger Mick Elliott said.
“A lot of people look at real estate and property as their savings account, their retirement investments,” he added. “They’ve been sitting on these properties knowing that if they need them, there’s two lots there. And then out of the blue, you’re going to arbitrarily just say we don’t want you to build on that?”
The amount of blowback from the public was not lost on the commissioners, who offered their suggestions as to how to handle the issue when the discussion turned back to them.
“I think we should eliminate this ordinance,” Commissioner Carlos Diaz quickly said.
“I’d like to change it,” added Commissioner Janet Hooper, who earlier floated the idea of giving property owners a choice of replatting the properties as one or two lots when faced with the decision.
Following more back-and-forth, in which the city attorney stated the current situation is an administrative nightmare for staff, and the city manager suggested removing one portion of the ordinance, giving property owners the choice Hooper suggested, Diaz reiterated his desire to flat-out reject the item.
“I think we should just reject 2016-13 and pick it up later on,” he said, eliciting a boisterous round of applause from the crowd as the clock approached midnight.
“I would support rejecting it,” Commissioner Cliff Merz added.
“I’ll vote ‘aye’ with the hopes of revisiting it,” Mayor Andy Steingold said of the replatting issue, and with that, the item passed by a vote of 4-1, with Vice Mayor Andy Zodrow voicing the sole ‘nay’ vote.
After the meeting, a number of attendees congregated outside the building, rejoicing over the decision in spite of the late hour.
Later, one longtime outspoken critic of the commission emailed Safety Harbor Connect his thoughts.
“Just three days prior to the city commission voting on this proposed ordinance, I spoke to many affected home owners. Not a single one was made aware that this was being pushed through,” Jim Barge, who recently filed a lawsuit against Mayor Steingold, wrote. “The Commission slips things into law, knowing that most residents don’t pay attention to what they are doing. Residents assume that their interests are being looked out for, but this is clearly not always the case.”
“Residents finally stood up and said ‘enough is enough’,” he added. “There are 17,000 residents in Safety Harbor, and all of them need to be taken into consideration and listened to. I’m proud that affected residents came out and spoke up.”
“Hopefully all residents will remember this, come election time.”
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It’s sad that Vice Mayor Zodrow and some other commissioners tried to pass this through without reaching out at all to the affected property owners. Thank goodness for Steingold and Merz for voting for the people! Although I must say – the filibustering and waiting till almost midnight to address any of the residents concerns was a little ludicrous, it’s like they were just hoping that the hundreds of residents, that showed up to defend their property rights, would get tired and leave. Thank goodness only about 25% of the people left and most stayed around till almost midnight to make sure this craziness wasn’t passed!
But that was not why citizens were upset. They were upset because 1.the city was proposing a vote that would devalue their property and 2. they were not notified. I do not recall one citizen complaining or being upset about the replat process. Yes that is important but for another time and discussion. No back peddling on this vote. You will be known as the sole “NAY” vote.
Jim, you were not listening closely to what I was saying during the meeting, especially when I was discussing not supporting the replat during a demolition. I had concerns about that from the beginning. Don’t make assumptions about votes by commissioners. The purpose of the nay vote was to have a second motion to allow the replat process, which was struck down. It will come back to the Commission at a future date but it will have to be replublished. Note, I am not quite so sure you represent the majority of the town. And I am also not sure what heavy handed, one sided ordinances I have supported.
Outside of the non-conforming lot issue, the code does not allow any manner for a property owner to replat in any situation (conforming or non-conforming). This issue will be discussed further by the City Commission in the near future. Staff and legal support language to allow a replat process for all property owners and lots.
Part of the confusion now and pre-2008 change, the code has never provided a replat process or means to do so. More on this in the future.
I rarely, if ever, post on this site but I feel compelled to based on the untruthful statement by Mr. Elliot. Not only did I NOT insist on it being a “good idea to devalue people’s property” but I voted “nay” because I wanted to include a provision in the code that would allow a homeowner to build one house over two lots, which, as the attorney said, is not currently allowed since the ordinance changed in 2008. I wanted to give that opportunity to residents to replat two lots into one. That provision was struck down. It is unfortunate there is so much confusion on this issue. Watch the video from the meeting and listen closely to the attorney. If there is no confusion by Mr. Elliot, then it is apparent he does not want larger homes to be allowed over two or more lots.
But you did reply. And you VOTED NO to property owner’s rights. Not sure what you mean by wanting to give the opportunity for a homeowner to build one house on two lots. That does not make sense. Anyone can build one house on two lots. And the county encourages you to replat the two lots into one because the tax base increases. There is no confusion to Smart Growth.
Desi, you are confused. Listen very closely to the attorney during the meeting. Ever since 2008, the city does not have a replat provision for combining two lots into one. Nikki very clearly explained that under the current ordinance the staff could not legally support approval of construction of a house to be constructed over the boundary of two lots. It is very clear. I am not sure why you are confused. Apparently Mick and Jim Barge feel the ordinance should not be changed to allow one house over two lots.
Commissioner Zodrow, this issue of replatting was never about codifying the ability to build a single home across 2 lots. Never. This issue ONLY came up – was initiated – as an outgrowth of a small bunch of complainers in town, the same small group that complains about any new home that is constructed, putting forth an attempt to curb home building. You know that, so don’t deny it. This issue was started for one reason: so that when an older home was demolished, it would prevent 2 homes from being constructed. That was the core issue. What I find astonishing is that, by my guess, 20 residents got up and spoke at the city commission meeting against this proposed ordinance, to maybe one person that spoke in support of it. I personally have never witnessed such public outcry against a city commission idea. Yet you still voted in a manner to support the ordinance, despite the public’s overwhelming voice against it. There isn’t a greater example of a city commissioner being disconnected from the residents that he/she is voted TO REPRESENT. WILL OF THE PEOPLE Commissioner Zodrow … not the will of the 8 people that hold your signs and knock on doors to get you elected. You are so out of touch with the thinking of the majority of Safety Harbor residents, it’s scary. There were residents at the meeting who literally walked out of the meeting and asked “who is that Zodrow?”, they were so disgusted with your thinking and lack of respect for the will of residents that you are supposed to be representing. You’re a nice guy, no doubt a personable guy, but a horrible commissioner. Thankfully many people’s eyes were opened. Start representing all 17,000 of your constituents, please, and start moving away from one-sided, heavy-handed, anti-resident ordinances, that are being put into affect simply to satisfy a vocal minority. Enough is enough already.
Our Main Street is fast becoming the quaintest ghost town this side of its own brick patterned empty streets. We need to seriously reevaluate a city leadership that has put every last ounce of focus onto stopping any homeowner, business owner or new neighbor from investing into our community for the sake of shellacking 1974 into permanent residency. Thanks to all that realized all the potential we are missing and how much time has been wasted on finding just the right way to never improve. SMARTH GROWTH SAFETY HARBOR!! Pride in progress.
Totally agree. The downtown redevelopment district desperately needs vibrant energy and a reason for businesses to come here. It needs to be a walkable business district. It needs daily business from ALL local residents, not just a few. Once-a-month festivals and food festivals where out-of-town venders come, block business for local merchants’ storefronts and take business away from downtown restaurants is not what is needed. We cannot continue to have a Main Street that only exists a few short blocks down from the Spa. It needs to be a vibrant business district all the way down Main Street passed the railroad tracks to the four posted stop signs.
Support Smart Growth Safety Harbor.
Congratulations to all Safety Harbor citizens who stood up, voiced their opinions and halted an insulting effort by our community’s “status quo” segment seeking to devalue property values for the sake of their no-growth agenda.
After the 4-1 vote (only commissioner Andy Zodrow insisting it was a good idea to devalue property values), it would be easy to accept “no harm, no foul.”
Please don’t. The post-game question is: If this was such a gosh-awful idea that it drew a standing-room-only crowd of citizen opposition, and then was dismissed by both sides of our political dividing line, then how did it even get to a City Commission vote?
That’s the scary part. It reached the commission because, in a community with a population of 18,000, a petition signed by 104 citizens calling for stricter building restrictions was treated like the Voice of God, and then green-lighted through the “status quo” friendly Planning and Zone Board.
Of course, ONE complaint also halted in mid-project the trimming of mangroves along South Bayshore, the entrance into our town.
Safety Harbor’s downtown area, the Main Street merchants in particular, are being treated with total disinterest by city leaders because a dozen “status quo“ advocates have gotten political influence.
Safety Harbor should pride itself in being a community of little homes, big homes and medium-sized home — a beautiful mix that appeals to all. Instead, all I hear from those who disagree is “… then those people don’t belong in Safety Harbor.”
How small minded.
The downtown redevelopment district desperately needs new life and a reason for businesses to come here. It needs a walkable business district. It needs daily business from local residents, not just a once-a-month festival, where we bring in out-of-town venders and block local merchants’ storefronts. (See “Smart Growth Safety Harbor” Facebook page).
Yet, from a small but loud segment, I hear only about the evils of any new construction, and a desire to hold on to 1974.
When I hear the continued and tiring over-and-over speech about the evils of new, larger homes in Safety Harbor’s downtown, what I hear is “I hate families.”
If you are a young couple with two children, why is it bad to desire a four-bedroom home? Safety Harbor should take it as a compliment that families would want to make this community their home, and spend money here.
Nobody is suggesting “nothing but new, large homes.” That’s an insulting argument.
A prospering community is a mix of old, new, large, small and all that is in between.
It’s hard to believe some voices ring with more passion to save a tree than to save a downtown business by welcoming new residents?
Please, know, it’s not a case of either or… You can do both.
Smart Growth Safety Harbor.