Process to build apartments on 74-acres of Tarpon Springs greenspace restarts over access road issue

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The Texas-based developer looking to build a controversial apartment complex on 74-acres of greenspace in Tarpon Springs is resubmitting its application for the project. The entire project is going back to the drawing board. And residents of the north Pinellas community are not happy about it.

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For years, members of the Tarpon Springs community have tried to turn the swath of land along U.S. 19 just before the Anclote River into a park. They successfully kept Walmart, which still owns the land, from developing on the property after an all-night City Commission meeting and years of court battles over a decade ago.

The stench

Chris Hrabovsky helped lead that fight. And at a special commission meeting Thursday he said the board had the opportunity to fix the mistake it made approving the project in January.

“You can flip this thing around. Be a champion of the people. Knock this stench off you. Fix this thing. Kill this project. Send them packing back to Texas,” Hrabovsky said. “Or let them come here and redevelop just like other people have said. There are lots of dilapidated properties here that could be fixed and we would welcome them here with open arms. Buy them a beer.”

In January, the project was approved with the condition that a second access point be explored. The design only showed one access point for the 404-unit development. Tarpon code requires two accesses for anything over 50-units. Thursday’s meeting was set to discuss and vote on an access road on the property’s backside. The city would’ve had to partner with the county and developer to build a new road.

But that wasn’t feasible. The County didn’t support the road and the City would have to use eminent domain to get the land it’d need.

The Hays Road build was, it seemed, dead on arrival.

Not adviseable

Another option was a second access on U.S. 19. But at a Jan. 7 meeting, Florida Department of Transportation engineer Joel Provenzano said that wasn’t possible.

“An option for a second access on U.S. 19 would not be advisable because we could not control the vehicles the same way we could from a single access,” he said. “It would increase the conflict points, thus increasing the potential for more crashes.”

But something changed between January and July.

Ed Arsmstrong represents the site’s developer, the Morgan Group. He announced at the meeting that the Morgan Group would be resubmitting the application. Emails between Morgan Group representatives and city leadership show the Morgan Group claim a second access does in fact meet FDOT’s design standards.

WMNF has reached out to FDOT to find out what exactly changed to make the two entrances feasible.

The 150

The auditorium at City Hall was packed Thursday with nearly 150 frustrated residents. The land in question is home to wetlands and uplands habitats. It also has a number of endangered and threatened species including gopher tortoises and bald eagles, among many others. Everyone who spoke during the meeting opposed the development.

Pinellas County is the most developed in the state with around 95-percent of developable land built out. Residents said the Anclote Harbor property represents one of the last pristine greenspaces in the county and deserves preservation.

Kim Begay is the conservation advocate for the Clearwater Audubon Society.

“So many wetlands have been developed that is now reaching a crisis point,” Begay said. Habitat like this should be preserved as a treasure for future generations. Not to be given to developers to do as they please. The developers can find other areas to build cookie-cutter apartments. But this habitat can never, ever be replaced.”

Now that the Morgan Group plans to submit a new application, the monthslong approval process will start at square one. That includes stops at the planning board and multiple public hearings.

“We’re here to let Morgan Group know this project ain’t gonna happen. You guys already shot yourselves in the foot,” Tarpon Resident Panagiotis Koulias said. “So many issues with this baloney second entrance that the application stops.”