The Safety Harbor City Commission voted to approve the Richman Group of Florida's latest proposal for the Firmenich property by a vote of 3-2 Monday night.
Mayor Joe Ayoub, Commissioner Nina Bandoni and Commissioner Richard Blake voted in favor of the proposal, with Commissioner Nancy Besore and Vice Mayor Cliff Merz voicing nay votes.
The newest proposal, which was submitted to the city by the developer late last week, calls for a 246-unit apartment complex with no buildings taller than three stories, a reduction of 30 units and one story from the previous plan.
"I am very happy with the modifications that were made," Mayor Ayoub said. "And I like the assurances by the applicant that it will be a high-quality project."
Despite a procession of 30 residents protesting the plan during the meeting, the decision ultimately came down to whether or not the commission believed the developer’s request followed the city’s land development standards.
Commissioner Bandoni went through each of the eight standards one by one before coming to her decision.
"I don't know how we can vote 'no' on these specific standards for review and not put ourselves in a position of having legal action taken against us."
Mayor Ayoub concurred.
"Looking at these eight standards, I think this project meets these eight standards," he said after the other commissioners had weighed in.
Stay up to date with all the local issues. Sign up for the free Safety Harbor Patch email newsletter and you won't miss a thing!
But at least one resident as well as one commissioner specifically said they felt the proposal violates one or more of the standards.
Steve Rosenthal presented what he believed was evidence the plan does not meet Standard #5, which states, "The amendment will not create an isolated district unrelated to the scale and character of the adjoining uses."
"On October 4th, 2012, 'This is far enough away from the city that it's kind of like a community onto itself' was stated by one of the people on the board," he read. "Thus proves ... this project has not met at least one half of Standard #5."
Commissioner Besore also said she believed the proposal did not meet Standard #5, among others.
"I don't think this fits (number) three because of our goal of inclusiveness," she said of the standard which states, "The amendment is consistent with the goals, objectives and policies of all elements of the City's Comprehensive Plan.
"I understand we want to welcome people ... but I see their locked community as a moat locking us away from them. So I have a problem with three, and I have a problem with five, and I'm still not certain about six."
In the end it didn't matter, as Commissioner Richard Blake's take swung the vote in the developer's favor.
"I don't see any issues in regards to five and six," Blake, a real estate agent by trade, said in response to Besore's comments. "I do not believe it will adversely affect the property values whatsoever."
At this time the once packed hall started to empty out, with many residents mumbling comments on the way out the door.
Russell Norman, who has studiously researched this issue for months, said he plans to explore options moving forward.
"We may reconvene and see if there's anything legally we can do," he said afterwards.
Robert Pergolizzi, the spokesperson for the Richman Group, said he was happy with the decision.
"We're pleased. We believe we're going to have a project that fits in perfectly with the City of Safety Harbor," he said.
"We believe the residents that will live here will be patronizing the businesses of downtown Safety Harbor, and this will benefit the community as a whole."
Mayor Ayoub said he hopes the residents who are against the project will eventually see this development as a positive for the city.
"If you look at history, there tends to be a pattern in the process of getting approval that people are against it," he said. "I think when they see how nice the project is, they're going to be pleased with the decision we made."
"At the end of the day I'm confident we made the right decision."
The Firmenich proposal will next go before the Pinellas Planning Council before moving on to the Board of County Commissioners.
Correction: A previous edition of this article said the new proposal called for no buildings taller than four stories. The deal actually calls for no buildings taller than three stories. A change has been made to reflect the correction.
Okay Harborites, with the Firmenich issue settled for now, we want to hear how you feel about the decision. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.