CLEARWATER — Despite objections from the neighbors, Pinellas County commissioners gave unanimous approval Jan. 28 to land use and zoning changes on 2 acres located on the east side of McMullen Booth Road in Palm Harbor.

Commissioners Charlie Justice and Ken Welch were absent.

The accompanying development agreement limits the use of the land to a one-story medical office with a maximum size of 18,000 square feet along with requirements for site access, roadway improvements, buffering and building design.

The applicant, McMullen Booth 2AC 3 2019 Trust/Martin J. Rosato, Trustee, had requested a future land use map amendment from recreational/open space to institutional, as well as a zoning atlas amendment from residential agriculture to limited institutional.

The plan is to build a new office location for Coastal Jaw Surgery, currently located off Tampa Road near U.S. 19. The dental practice is under contract to buy the property if the amendments were granted.

A similar request from the same applicant for land use and zoning changes was denied by the Local Planning Agency in 2016, but at the time, the requests did not include a developer’s agreement.

The property had belonged to Pinellas County, but in 2005 it was part of a land swap deal with Southwest Florida Water Management District. The county had planned to build a water tower on the 2 acres, but due to public opposition, it made the swap and built the tower on land previously owned by SWFWMD. SWFWMD declared the 2 acres surplus in 2014 and sold it to the current owner.

The land, which is vacant, fronts the east side of McMullen-Booth Road. It is about 700 feet north of Curlew Road along a 0.6-mile stretch of mostly undeveloped land between Curlew Road and the access ramp to Tampa Road.

The Lake Tarpon Outfall Canal is located to the east of the 2 acres, and the canal’s water control tower is to the north. A county-owned stormwater retention pond is to the south.

The only structures on the east side of McMullen Booth Road between Curlew Road and Tampa Road are the water control facility and its associated buildings. The rest is stormwater ponds and undeveloped open space.

And that’s exactly the way the neighbors located to the west across McMullen Booth Road want it to stay. The residents of Landmark Oaks, a multifamily residential development, have a number of objections to having a dentist office across the street.

They are concerned about more traffic to an already busy road. They say it is difficult now for them to enter and exit their development.

They also pointed out that the dentist office would be built on a section of McMullen Booth Road that is designated as a scenic corridor, which to them means it should remain as is — green space. Residents living in buildings closest to the road say they don’t want to look out their windows at an office building.

They contend that a mound of dirt on the land since 1987 provides a buffer from potential flooding, bright lights from a ball field and loudspeakers from the movie theatre on Tampa Road.

They say wildlife will be negatively affected. They insist there are other areas where a dentist office could be built and that allowing this one would set a precedent for future development.

More than 80 residents signed a petition stating they were opposed.

But not all residents agree. More than a dozen signed a petition in favor of allowing construction of the dentist office. They said they don’t think the property is “aesthetically pleasing” as it exists now. They like that the owner has agreed to make road improvements that will improve traffic flow in the area. They think the new office will likely improve property values.

Cynthia Tarapani, with Tarapani Planning Strategies in Tarpon Springs, represented the applicant at the meeting. She said the applicant had met with the residents and county staff trying to find solutions. She said the developer’s agreement should take care of the concerns.

She said a traffic study showed that the dentist office would only increase traffic by one-half of 1%. However, due to the residents’ concerns, the owner has agreed to construct a northbound right turn lane and restrict access in and out of the office to right-turn-only. Modifications also would be made to the median opening to prevent left turns.

She said the owner had also agreed to put in more trees and bigger trees than are required to provide a buffer. She pointed out that the closest building in the development would be 330 feet away, about the distance of a football field, and across McMullen Booth Road.

Tarapani said allowing the dentist office to be built would not set a precedent because there are no other privately owned parcels in the areas.

Dr. Michael Pikos, the dentist who owns Coastal Jaw Surgery and the Pikos Institute in Trinity, said he had outgrown his current location where he does specialty procedures, including dental implants.

He wants to build his own office to specifications that will meet his specialized needs and accommodate his equipment. He said he has listened to his neighbors and plans to be a great neighbor and maintain a good relationship.

Several of his patients testified on his behalf.

“This is one of those interesting cases,” Commissioner Karen Seel said after all that wanted to speak had finished. “I do believe it would have minimal impact compared to anything else that could go there.”

She cited its fit with the scenic area and median improvements, which make it safer for residents.

Commissioner Dave Eggers pointed out that both sides had compelling arguments. He wanted to hear more about the median improvements and said maybe more could be done to increase the buffering.

But he agreed with the applicant that the developer’s agreement made building a dentist office on a very busy corridor a reasonable request. He also said property owners have reasonable expectations to be able use their land.

“What is proposed is reasonable,” he said, asking that Dr. Pikos reach out to the neighbors again to see what else could be done to make them happy.

“Safety is an issue. The median is good,” he said.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.