TARPON SPRINGS — The Meres Boulevard extension that, when completed, will connect South Pinellas Avenue to U.S. Highway 19 has been more than a decade in the making.
The race to complete the project, which began with a groundbreaking ceremony in January, hasn’t taken nearly as long. But the journey to finish the half-mile connector road has been paved with potholes, both literally and figuratively, leading to an ongoing stalemate between the city and the project developer, DDA Development of Tampa.
While DDA reps agreed Meres had to be completed before tenants could move into their $45 million Icaria on Pinellas apartment complex nearby, they said unforeseen construction issues caused a months-long delay, leaving dozens of prospective leaseholders in limbo while voids discovered in the soil were filled.
“I sympathize with the developer that he has two buildings ready and he’s going to have 102 units that he can actually rent,” Mayor Chris Alahouzos said. When the City Commission addressed the item Aug. 25, Alahouzos said he was concerned about extra traffic on Alt. 19 causing delays for emergency vehicles attempting to reach AdventHealth North Pinellas Hospital. “But I would not agree to give them the temporary CO (certificate of occupancy) that they are requesting. This is something that we already promised that to the people of Tarpon Springs for several years now. They want to see the road completed before the Icaria development can start renting apartments.”
Vice Mayor Jacob Karr echoed the mayor, noting he would agree to pay $347,166.51 to the developer for additional design elements, including turn lanes and drainage improvements, that were requested by the city. Commissioner Townsend Tarapani said he’d consider “making a deal” with the developer to include sidewalks on the extension, an element he believes should’ve been included in the original development agreement.
Commissioner Costa Vatikiotis concurred but said he would rather have the city handle the sidewalks.
“I’d like to have sidewalks on Meres, but I honestly would like to see the developer go away and let us handle any new sidewalks,” he said. “I just don’t want them to be lingering with this thing being held over our heads.”
Vatikiotis suggested they “reject the entire offer,” noting, “I think that the certificate of occupancy is a non-starter with this commission any way you turn it. I don’t think that’s going to happen.” When it came time to vote he was proven right, as the five commissioners unanimously rejected the offer, including the $347,000 payment and a temporary certificate of occupancy.
“We need to start over again,” City Attorney Tom Trask said.
After the meeting, Alahouzos commented on the latest development in the ongoing stalemate.
“We have an agreement from way back that they have to finish Meres Boulevard before they get a certificate of occupancy, and I promised the people of Tarpon Springs that we would not allow temporary COs until the road project is completed,” he said by phone Aug. 26. “Also, there’s 102 units in the two buildings meaning up to 200 cars on Alt. 19 on top of what we have now, making it harder for emergency vehicles to get to the hospital.”
Alahouzos reiterated when Meres is completed and the apartments pass the building inspector’s checklist, they will grant the COs. “I hope it’s in six weeks, but I don’t know,” he said, referring to the latest estimated completion timeline provided by the developer. “I do know we have an agreement, and I’m going to stick to the agreement.”
When contacted for comment about the commission’s decision, DDA co-founder Bowen Arnold replied via email, “We were exceptionally disappointed in the Tarpon Springs Board of Commissioners' decision last night to deny us TCOs on 2 of the 5 buildings in the development. We offered the city what we thought was a fair compromise, in return for the ability to move some of the 45-plus residents whom have signed leases into this exciting new development.”
He added that DDA has already put more than $4.5 million into the Meres project that was originally budgeted at $2 million and the site is being prepped for delivery of a public art installation, another condition of the development agreement.
“We have done everything we have promised to do over the past 3-plus years, and we’re asking for some cooperation in helping to move people in during what is a difficult time for us all,” Arnold said.