SHCC agrees to move forward with development agreement for Main Street mixed-use project

Safety Harbor officials agreed on Monday to enter a development agreement with Bay to Bay Properties that calls for a mixed-use complex consisting of residential, retail and office space to be constructed on a one-acre parcel located on the northwest corner of Main Street and Second Avenue North. (Credit: Bay to Bay Properties)

The Safety Harbor City Commission unanimously agreed on Monday to move forward with a development agreement for the proposed mixed-use project on Main Street.

According to the general terms that have been worked out between the City and local developer Bay to Bay Properties, the agreement includes the construction of a three-story commercial building of roughly 18,000-22,000-sq.-ft. on Main Street as well as a three-story, 24-unit multi-family structure on the northern portion of the one-acre parcel, which is located on the northwest corner of Main Street and Second Avenue North.

While a couple of the commissioners expressed reservations about the deal, namely the height of the residential structure that would overlook single-family homes on Second Street North, all five local lawmakers agreed the project would be a good one for the City.

“I think this is a great project,” Vice-Mayor Carlos Diaz said during the discussion of the agenda item, adding, “I commend the applicant for his vision.”

Vice-Mayor Carlos Diaz.

Although Diaz conceded no project is perfect, he said this one would “bring a lot of benefits to the community” and “help push Main Street forward” regarding its stagnant growth.

One major sticking point of the deal for some, including opponents who have reportedly been voicing their dislike for the project on social media, is the City’s planned reimbursement of $160,000 in parkland dedication fees to Bay to Bay.

According to officials, the parkland fee would initially be paid by the developer and then repaid using Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) funds.

In return for the reimbursement, Bay to Bay agreed to make considerable concessions on the project to the City, including:

  • reducing the maximum allowable height of the residential building by 22% (35′ max. proposed, 45′ max. allowed)
  • reducing the maximum allowable height of the commercial building by 11% (40′ max. proposed, 45′ max. allowed)
  • increasing the setbacks on Second Street North and Second Avenue North by 200% and 300%, respectively
  • reserving the ground floor of the commercial building for restaurant and retail use only for a period of no less than five years
  • planting 3 “substantial” oak trees on Second Avenue North at a cost of roughly $20,000
  • creating 30 parking spaces to be designated for public use

Local developer Bay to Bay Properties has proposed a mixed-use develppment for this vacant lot on the corner of Main Street and Second Avenue North in downtown Safety Harbor.

While critics have characterized the reimbursement as akin to giving a generous handout to a private, profitable company, officials called it a correct use of CRA funds for a deal that will ultimately benefit the City.

Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub.

“I’ve seen a couple of people make comments that the City is basically doing a giveaway for $160,000 and basically we’re not getting anything in return, that we’re subsidizing this project,” Mayor Joe Ayoub said.

He then asked City Manager Matt Spoor if by agreeing to the terms in the context of a development agreement, it gives the City more control over the project.

“Yes, the only caveat is there might be more…advantages that come,” Spoor replied.

Spoor pointed out the value of the land for the 30 parking spaces is estimated at $175,000, and he noted the project is expected to generate roughly $55,000-$75,000 a year in taxes.

Commissioners Andy Zodrow and Cliff Merz expressed their approval of the project, but both noted concerns about the height of the residential structure, while Zodrow also questioned the allocation of CRA funds.

City Commissioner Andy Zodrow.

“I do want to see the City move forward with the development agreement, but I do have some concerns,” Zodrow said, adding his “real issue is with the height of the residential building…and using that amount of CRA money. You’re asking to take a lot of money from the CRA.”

The vice-mayor, however, directly disagreed with that assessment.

“As far as the use of CRA funds, I can’t see a better use of them,” Diaz said.

“I think this is a true use of the CRA. The CRA replenishes itself…and I can’t say enough about this project.”

Ultimately, the five commissioners agreed to allow the City Manager to move forward with the negotiations on the agreement, with the understanding the applicant would be bringing a site plan before the Planning and Zoning Board for review in the near future.

A look at the conceptual rendering for the mixed-use development proposed by Bay to Bay properties in downtown safety Harbor.

After the meeting, Bay to Bay co-owner Joe Faw spoke about the commission’s decision.

“I feel good about it,” Faw told Safety Harbor Connect outside City Hall. “I think it’s getting close to a win-win.”

Bay to Bay Properties co-owner Joe Faw.

Regarding the opposition to the project, Faw was blunt.

“We feel like we’re going above and beyond what’s required of us, so it’s a bit surprising to hear opposition of that,” he said. “The facts are pretty clear that we’re spending north of a half a million dollars in extras per the City’s request in the form of setback reductions and adding trees, architectural enhancements and parking, and it’s unfortunate the public doesn’t see that.”

Despite the concerns, Faw is confident the project will ultimately win over its detractors.

“We’re trying to address the concerns respectfully and professionally, and we hope people will eventually realize that,” he said.

“We’re going to show that when you compare what we’re allowed to do to what we are doing, it doesn’t compare.”

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