Court denies rehearing for developer in $16.5 million Pinellas zoning case

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There will not be a rehearing in the case that could have cost Pinellas County taxpayers $16.5 million over a Safety Harbor apartment complex that the County Commission rejected five years ago.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals in Lakeland denied a request for rehearing by the Richman Group of Florida.

The court originally ruled last November in favor of the county, making it clear that local taxpayers would not have to pay the millions for the County Commission having denied a developer its constitutional rights by failing to grant a proposed zoning and land use change.

The case arose out of a 2012 request that the city of Safety Harbor rezone a 34.55-acre parcel of land at the intersection of McMullen-Booth Road and 10th Street so that it could build a 246-unit apartment complex and 25,000-square-feet of single-story office space.

To accomplish this, the land — which had several zoning designations — had to be rezoned to residential. About 15.8 acres of the larger property was zoned industrial.

The proposal won preliminary approval with a 3-2 vote from the Safety Harbor City Council. The proposal had to win the county’s approval before it went back before the Safety Harbor council for the final OK.

But, after hearing from 308 residents opposed to the development, Pinellas County commissioners turned down the proposal saying they believed in the preservation of “industrial” land in 2013.

Richman then appealed to an administrative law judge, who said the Commission was wrong when it denied the rezoning. Preservation of industrial land was not mentioned in the land code as one of the criteria the County Commission can follow in deciding zoning and land use cases.

The case went back before the commission, where they were instructed by their attorney that they were bound to follow the administrative judge’s ruling about what they could consider in deciding the case. The commission once again went ahead and unanimously voted to turn down the request, leading to the lawsuit.

In June 2016, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Walter Schafer Jr. ruled in favor of Richman, and Pinellas was ordered to pay $16.5 million in lost profits and interest to the Richman Group.

The county appealed that ruling, and the 2nd District Court overturned the judge last November. Richman has 30 days to file an appeal with the Florida Supreme Court.

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected]



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