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Mayor Ayoub Suggests Selling Messenger Property

The City of Safety Harbor has owned the 10-acre parcel behind Harborside Christian Church since 1999; Ayoub believes selling it could help fund other parkland areas.

The City of Safety Harbor is teeming with property development issues.

In addition to the waterfront park and the Firmenich proposal, the city recently agreed to a lease-to-own arrangement on the old Safety Harbor Secondary School land, which could become a park in the future.

One more item was added to the list Tuesday night, when Mayor Joe Ayoub said he would like to consider selling a 10-acre parcel behind Harborside Christian Church known as the Messenger property. 

“In light of the fact that the city recently purchased the Secondary School site from Pinellas County ... I would like the city commission to consider selling a piece of land commonly referred to as the Messenger property,” Ayoub said during his commission report at the end of the city commission meeting.

“The city purchased this property back in 1999 ... and we haven’t done anything with it for almost 15 years,” he added. “I thought we could earmark the money and use it for either the new waterfront park ... or for improving the Secondary School site.”

The idea elicited a variety of responses from the commissioners and city officials.

Commissioner Nina Bandoni said she would like to do more research on the property before making any decisions, while Commissioner Cliff Merz said his initial reaction was not to sell it, but that he would be willing to listen to options.

“I want to know how close it is to a creek ... could it possibly morph into a subdivision? I want to know what trees are there. I just have all sorts of questions,” Commissioner Nancy Besore added.

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The property, located behind the church on Marshall Street and stretching out to Green Springs Drive, was originally purchased at a cost of $300,000 with the idea of putting sports fields on the land. 

But disputes with adjacent property owners as to how to access to the landlocked parcel put the piece in developmental limbo.

Walking the plot earlier this week, Harborside Church facility manager Kirk Hynes pointed out that very few people would have a need for the property other than the church or neighboring homeowners.

“It’s completely landlocked, so I don’t know who would want it except for us and surrounding property owners,” he said, adding he had no idea if the church is interested in purchasing the parcel.

City manager Matt Spoor also made a similar statement during the meeting. 

“Right now the potential buyers are going to be only those landowners that abut the property,” he said. “There is no right-of-way, there is no public accessway to the property. It is definitely landlocked.” 

Hynes said he occasionally has to chase homeless people and teens off the property, and the site has been used as a dumping ground for landscape debris. 

He has also witnessed “a lot of coyotes” on the property, and he mentioned the fact there is a SFWMD main that runs through the site that is regularly maintained by the district. 

While Spoor said if the city decides to sell the land “there is a process we have to follow," Mayor Ayoub said he merely wants to look into the possibility of what can be done at this time.

“I don’t see any harm in starting the process of gathering information," he said. "We're not rushing to put a 'For Sale' sign on the property tomorrow. Let's start looking in to it.

What do you think, Harborites? Should the city sell the Messenger land and divert the money to other projects? Let us know in the comments below.

Russell Norman January 31, 2013 at 01:35 AM
I like everyones take on what is happening and some great suggestions about what can be done in certian areas and to create more business for the downtown merchants and to clean up some unsightly areas. Lets not take our sites off of what is happening with the Firminech property this is huge. If this gets approved many people are going to be thinking much differently about Safety Harbor and there elected leaders. The traffic will be a nightmare and the green space gone forever. I for one will take a hard look and see if it is time to leave after 27 years here. My property is one of the ones that will be affected. We built our house with intention of staying here because of the small town atmosphere and the developement has been kept in check. We felt that the leaders looked at community first above all else and did not overdevelope. I for the life of me can't see how this even got thru the Planning and Zoning and believe it is time for a change there. I am also surprised the the City Planner Matt would even say this is a good fit for the city. Where else are there 3 and 4 story building in all of Safety Harbor.Maybe it time for a change there also. If our elected officials aren't going listening what are we going to do????? It is time to show them we mean business. We need people to be there at the commission meeting, we need the petition signed at www.tinyurl.com\signonline we people telling their neighbors.We need the merchants downtown speaking up like Dee.
Joan Schmid February 02, 2013 at 06:06 PM
So the obvious missing point: Why did the City purchase a landlocked parcel for so many $$$? Let us explore ways (buy add'l lots to gain access and parking. Offer incentive to church to use their parking at low use periods...) to make this property useful to the community. A managed wild habitat is a great use....
Christine Petellat February 02, 2013 at 09:01 PM
I wish I could buy it and do absolutely nothing with it! We have many volunteers here to help keep it clean if there is dumping. Have parks and rec do drive by checks on the way to North Cit Park. Coyotes will chase off the homeless and the teens. If years down the road the Church itself wants to expand, not a developer, then sell it. Try to make a profit not a loss. The Church could also want to sell their land to same developer and we all will be in the same Firmenich situation again. I haven't heard of any complaints about that property until now, I personally have heard how much the neighboring homes love the birds and small wildlife like rabbits there. Also, over how many years ago were each of these problems? Things do happen and get addressed and move on. We just can't take back the loss of land. Developing that land only costs the city money, water, infrastructure, traffic, schools and I can go on. This just seems to be short term fix to long term regret. No thought has gone into it, obviously. No need to even look into selling it right now.
Gary Greer May 29, 2013 at 04:45 PM
I am a homeowner for one of the properties that backs up to that 10 acres of land being discussed. For that past 22 years I have walked a trail and hiked through the woods in that 10 acre parcel that is adjacent to our property probably a hundred times. I have never seen teens or homeless people, and one time, in all that time, I did see what was either a coyote or a wild dog, and I tried to get a photo of it with my phone, but as soon as it saw me, it took off. So it didn't appear to be interested in attacking people, let alone letting them get close - again, that was just one time in 22 years. Of bigger concern is the growth of the church and their school, and the environmental impact they could cause. There already is flooding during the summer months when it rains in that wetlands area, and adding more pavement with a raised road will create a dam and additional water runoff flooding. As the church and it's school continues to grow, and with another access route to the church property, it could eventually be another property like the Baptist church on McMullen and Drew street, complete with a high school sports stadium that would need to build and pave on open land to create additional parking. Check out the Baptist property on Drew St. and McMullen Booth, drive around it - asphalt, lights, traffic and noise - do we really need to have more of that, and especially in Safety Harbor?
Don June 04, 2013 at 05:10 PM
Good news: At the June 3rd City Council meeting, the Mayor gave assurances the Messinger property is not going to be sold, although this current City Council's decision does not bind future Councils. It was suggested that the City designate the Messinger property as "P" for "Preservation", which is the closest you can get to a guarantee that it will never be sold (who's going to purchase land designated as a preservation than can't be developed?). The Commissioners are going to look into that option.

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