Mixed-use development proposed for vacant lot in downtown Safety Harbor

The Safety Harbor City Commission unanimously voted to allow the City Manager to enter into negotiations on a development agreement that could see a 20,000-square foot, mixed-use development built on this one-acre lot on Main Street and Second Avenue North in downtown Safety Harbor.

After months of discussions, the Safety Harbor City Commission recently came up with several ways to boost the economy in the downtown district.

Recruiting a volunteer liaison to assist with attracting new businesses to town, creating a survey to gain public feedback on the subject and empowering City Manager Matt Spoor to handle inquiries about certain properties in the area were a few of the solutions presented while officials decide whether there is enough money in the budget to hire an economic development director.

Safety Harbor City Manager Matt Spoor.

During Monday night’s commission meeting, Spoor reported the efforts were already paying dividends, as he informed the commission three candidates have applied for the liaison position and a local developer wants to build a mixed-use development in a vacant lot on the corner of Main Street and Second Avenue North.

“The City received the request to negotiate a development agreement from Bay to Bay Properties this past Friday, August 18,” Spoor said when introducing the New Business item.

He noted the site is a roughly one-acre parcel located north of Main Street and Second Avenue North.

The property is within the CRA and designated as Community Town Center (CTC) in the City code and is owned by Safety Harbor Property Holdings, LLC.

Spoor said Bay to Bay Properties, a construction management company located on Second Street South, has received a handful of critical accolades, including being named the 17th Fastest Growing Company in Tampa Bay according to the Tampa Business Journal, leading to an increase in employee growth and a need to expand the office space with a desire to remain in town.

In addition to the new offices, owner Joe Faw decided to incorporate additional elements into the project in light of the City’s aim to bring new business and development to the district.

“The proposed project would consist of two buildings,” Spoor said. “The first would be a three-story commercial building consisting of retail, restaurant and office, between 18,000 and 22,000-square feet on Main Street, and the second building would be a three-story, 24-unit luxury multi-family structure on the northern part of the property.”

A raw, conceptual rendering of the mixed-use development Bay to Bay Properties is proposing for a one-acre lot on the corner of Main Street and Second Avenue North in downtown Safety Harbor.

Spoor added that Bay to Bay plans to occupy two floors of the office space on Main Street, and he noted that parking would be located behind and between the two buildings as well as along Second Avenue North and Second Street North.

The project is expected to create approximately 30 new on-street parking spaces that would be built on private property and dedicated to the City for public use.

Safety Harbor City Commissioner Cliff Merz.

The request was met with unanimous approval, yet mixed responses, from the commissioners.

While all five lawmakers ultimately approved the request to enter negotiations, Commissioner Cliff Merz questioned the proposed height of the residential apartment building, stating he did not want a three-story building overlooking residential homes on the back side of the parcel.

“Three stories overlooking one-story homes, I would have some concern with that,” Merz said.

According to the City code, the allowable building height on the subject property is capped at 45 feet.

Commissioner Andy Zodrow concurred with Merz about the height, and he also decried the project’s density and apparent lack of greenspace as well as the development’s compatibility with surrounding properties.

“I’d like to make sure it fits in Main Street,” he said.

Vice-Mayor Carlos Diaz, Commissioner Scott Long and Mayor Joe Ayoub fully endorsed entering negotiations.

“I’m all for it,” Diaz said, with Long adding he “had no problems with it, either.”

Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub.

“I think it’s part of our vision to see something on that piece of property,” Ayoub said, “and there’s something to be said for doing it via a development agreement.”

It was noted that Safety Harbor is one of only two communities in the area that has a provision that allows negotiations with developers, a tool that can allow for extensive back-and-forth between the involved parties.

The public comments were overwhelmingly supportive of the proposal.

“It’s a dirt lot. Go for it,” MOSH chairperson Mercedes Ofalt simply stated.

“I’m in favor of developing the property,” Colin Young said while praising Bay to Bay president Joe Faw.

Desayna Daly agreed.

“I’m all for it,” she said, adding she’d never seen a building or a home that Bay to Bay built that wasn’t beautiful.

Vic Curti, cofounder of Smart Growth Safety Harbor, said he understood “change can be scary,” but added that “an empty lot is not good for our Main Street.”

This vacant lot in downtown Safety Harbor could be home to a mixed-use development after the City Commission agreed to enter negotiations with a local developer. The one-acre parcel is currently used for public parking.

After the city attorney noted this was just the first of many steps in the process and reminded the commissioners that Spoor is not authorized to give final approval on any aspect of the proposal, the request to negotiate a development agreement with Bay to Bay was approved by a vote of 5-0.

After the meeting, Spoor spoke about the next step.

“Staff will begin to negotiate with Bay to Bay on a mutually acceptable development agreement for the vacant parcel,” he said via email on Tuesday.

“Our goal is to bring essential terms back to the City Commission in the near future.”

Mayor Ayoub also shared his thoughts about the decision via email.

“I am happy to see that we have a business that is interested in doing a mixed use project that would finally bring some life to a vacant and dusty piece of land that is in the heart of our downtown,” he wrote.

“By doing this through a development agreement it gives us the opportunity to be proactive and gain more control, which eliminates the risk of a project being built there that is out of character or not part of our vision for our downtown.”

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