TARPON SPRINGS — When Tarpon Springs Mayor Chris Alahouzos attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Meres Boulevard extension project in January, he made it clear no tenants would be allowed to occupy any of the 236 units at the nearby Icaria on Pinellas apartment complex until the half-mile road connecting South Pinellas Avenue to U.S. Highway 19 was complete.
“By completing this road, the Icaria apartments will be operational as well,” Alahouzos said during the Jan. 16 ceremony, citing a condition of the project’s local funding agreement.
At the time, officials with Icaria’s developer, Tampa-based DDA Development, estimated the Meres extension would be done by early spring, and they hoped to have tenants occupying the first units of the $40 million complex along the Pinellas Trail in late-April or early May.
However, an unforeseen problem caused a delay in the road project, according to a letter DDA principal Bowen Arnold sent to the City Commission, pushing the completion date to July and leaving two-dozen lease holders in limbo.
“Progress is ongoing, but a section of the city’s land has some “voids” that must be grouted, which requires regulatory approval from FDEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection),” Arnold said in the letter dated April 6.
The letter also states the local funding agreement says the city won’t issue a certificate of occupancy for the project until the Meres Boulevard extension is complete, but the group has requested a temporary CO for only the first two buildings so it can accommodate its first group of tenants.
“Almost all of the tenants are locals and need a realistic target move-in date so they can schedule movers and terminate prior occupancy,” the letter reads.
Arnold also noted DDA had covered all the road extension expenses to date, estimated at more than $2 million, despite an agreement with the city to share the costs. “We have acted in good faith throughout this process, advancing all of the money spent to date, and we have made every reasonable effort to complete the roadwork prior to being ready for occupancy,” the letter stated. “We ask you to consider allowing us TCOs for buildings 3 & 4 so we can accommodate our first group of residents while continuing the final stage of the roadwork.”
Despite the plea, city leaders recently doubled down on their position, or opposition, to DDA’s request.
“I just want to clarify that I will not support to give Icaria the authorization to operate the apartments unless they have finished with their commitment to finish Meres Boulevard,” Alahouzos said during an April 21 work session. “We’ve received emails and I’m sure a bunch of phone calls, as well. So, I will not support anything like that.”
Vice-Mayor Jacob Karr agreed, stating, “I have no desire in granting a temporary CO to the apartments until the (road) project is completed, per the original agreement that was signed. So, I just want to make that clear and out in the public.”
The commission’s stance has left Icaria officials and future tenants frustrated.
“We’re very frustrated because some of this is out of our hands,” Arnold said by phone April 23, noting the extension was 70% complete when inspectors discovered the voids, causing a 60-day delay. “If not for that, we would probably be done by now. So, it’s been real difficult because we have to move people in. We haven’t asked for TCOs on everything, just the first two buildings, and we thought that would be adequate. But so far, we have been denied.”
According to current Palm Harbor resident and Icaria lease holder Kim Jackson, the stalemate has caused her and her family additional stress during the coronavirus crisis.
“Originally, I was supposed to move in June 1, then June 15 and now I’m looking at July 15, maybe,” Jackson said by phone May 12. “My apartment where I live in now is already rented next month, so I have to be out on the 15th no matter what. I’ll have to put my stuff in storage and move in my with parents in Dunedin with two dogs and my teenage daughter. So, it’s been a very difficult time, just a bad situation all around.”
Jackson said she sent a letter to the city hoping to get some compassion for her situation in light of the unusual circumstances created by the pandemic, but she said her request was flatly denied.
“I told the city manager I understand the city was originally waiting for the Meres Boulevard extension project to be completed before issuing the certificates of occupancy, but you don’t seem to care my family will be displaced,” Jackson said. “I mean, can’t we have a compromise, or some empathy? These are unprecedented times. People are under stress and anxiety and now I’m about to be displaced, I have to disrupt my parents’ world, my daughter’s world. It’s creating a real stressful situation for myself and I’m sure all the other tenants who are waiting to move into their new apartments. We just need a place to live.”