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Commissioners Respond to Alternate Proposals for Firmenich Property

Officials from the Richman Group presented two additional site proposals at a workshop Monday night, but commissioners still expressed reservations about the whole project.

Safety Harbor residents packed City Hall to hear the latest developments in the ongoing Firmenich property issue Monday night.

Representatives of the Richman Group of Florida unveiled two new plans for the property that addressed previous issues raised by the commission and the community, including reducing the building heights from four stories to three and the number of units from 296 to 276.

But instead of approving any of the three proposals put forth by the developer, new concerns as well as previous perceived drawbacks left the project in limbo.

“I’m having a hard time with the ingress and egress, number one, and I’m having a real hard time with the commercial use,” Mayor Andy Steingold said, referring to the proposed entrance to the property on State Road 590 and the 37,900 square feet of commercial development that would be part of the deal.

“I’d feel more comfortable if we could get another ingress/egress on McMullen Booth.”

The other commissioners expressed their concerns as well.

“In the past I said I’d like to see a 30 percent reduction, which is somewhere around 198-200 (units),” Commissioner Cliff Merz said. “I personally think the density is still too high at 276 (units).”

“Two hundred and seventy-six units is the baseline for us,” Richman Group development associate Damon Kolb said. “The price doesn’t make sense to us at a lower density.”

Commissioner Nina Bandoni said she is less concerned with the number of units than the actual site plan, while Commissioner Nancy Besore likened the whole process to that of buying a car.

“I wanted to compliment you for coming down from four (stories) to three,” she said. “But I hate buying a car, and I feel right now as though I’m buying a car. I feel as though you came to us with the worst deal first ... and I hate that.”

Kolb did say that the company has no plans to use the property for anything other than market rate housing, meaning no subsidized, or Section 8, tenants, and he promised that the commercial development would be limited to lower-scale uses such as banks and offices.

But ultimately, concerns with the overall size and scope of the project seemed to stall the issue in its tracks.

“There’s a lot of angst in the community. This is such a huge change for us,” Besore said.

“I’m not saying it’s a bad project. I think it’s a great concept,” Mayor Steingold said. “I’m just not so sure that the residents of the city of Safety Harbor are ready for that concept.”

We'd like to know your thoughts on the latest developments in this story. Please let us know how you feel about the Firmenich issue in the comments below.

Jeffrey Rosenfield November 21, 2012 at 04:09 PM
I'm really enjoying this dialog between you two!
Ross "Roscoe" Rayner November 24, 2012 at 12:31 PM
I've lived here 8 years. Small house up aorund the bend from this property. I've enjoyed your thoughts. I like the idea of a preserve. Does the City have the funds available for such a project? I have not read much of the discussion. How great of a tax windfall could this property be for the City? In the end, I'd rather have it sit silent, as is, than see it developed.
Jeffrey Rosenfield November 24, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Roscoe, thank you for the comment and the support of Safety Harbor Patch. As for putting a preserve on the land, I know that the majority of the area is currently zoned for industrial use, and it is owned by the Firmenich company. They are trying to sell it, and the Richman Group is offering to purchase it and have some of the zoning rights changed so they can put a residential development as well as commercial businesses on the property. If the Richman Group deal does not go through, the land could indeed remain undeveloped for a long time. As for the city purchasing the property, that hasn't been discussed as an option yet, and I'm not sure if it would ever happen. I would have to get a city official to comment on that possibility. Thanks again.
Robert Saltzman November 24, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Dec 3rd meeting should be interesting....I would love for someone to bring up the "lets make it a preserve" option ..I don't think it will fly because the City sees this as some kind of Tax windfall. But in the long run it probably will cost more in traffic, schooling, police patrol, etc..but then again I'm just an old tree hugger...
Don December 16, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Dee - timely article in today's (Dec 16) Tribune about developers converting their apt/condo complexes into low income housing in order to become eligible for tax credits. Even if the Richman Group formally agreed not to, if they sold the property, the new buyers would not be under any obligation to keep it at market rates. Suddenly you have 276 low income units. Yes that's a worst case scenario, but that's certainly not what is being sold on these proposals.

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