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The Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs have filed a lawsuit in an effort to stop construction of the 404-unit Anclote Harbor apartment complex.

TARPON SPRINGS — After hours, even days and years of contentious debate that ended in final approval of the Anclote Harbor apartment complex by the Tarpon Springs City Commission, it turns out the issue is still alive.

The Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs has filed an appeal in Pinellas County Circuit Court arguing that a number of procedural and zoning issues rendered the commission’s approval “fatally flawed.”

Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs is a citizen advocacy group that bills itself as a “longtime defender of the ‘Anclote 74’, a 74-acre parcel on the east side of US Highway 19 along the Anclote River.”

The Morgan Group, a Houston-based developer, received approval in November to rezone the site to Residential Planned Development (RPD) to re-affirm the rezoning to RPD along with approval of a Preliminary Planned Development, according to city records. The Commission’s approval signaled the go-ahead for the project.

Construction is set to begin in the first half of 2022.

Tarpon Springs officials have been advised not to discuss pending litigation, but the commission approved the project on a 3-1 vote earlier this year after extensive debate and public testimony.

During the November meeting at which the project was approved, commissioners argued that there was little they could do to stop the 404-unit apartment development on the Anclote River.

Vice Mayor Jacob Karr said during the November meeting that opponents of the development waged a disinformation campaign and added that Concerned Citizens should have focused on preserving the land 15 years ago when the group successfully defeated a proposal to build a Walmart on the property.

“They had 15 years to do something,” Karr said in November. “Ultimately what happens is what you’ve got is a small group of people, in this town who don’t want anything to happen to this property. They only want to have a park. We’re the commissioners who have to vote on the proposal before us. It’s not that we were deciding whether to make it a park or not.”

Karr said in November that Morgan Group exceeded requirements for developing the property.

But in its appeal, Concerned Citizens argued that the commission’s decision “didn’t apply the right law, violated due process, and wasn’t supported by competent evidence.”

“We feel we will have a better chance to succeed in court because it will be a neutral party,” said Peter Dalacos, a spokesman for the group. “Once we get to court, we’re confident the court will see the errors that were created by both the city and the applicant.”

In a news release, Concerned Citizens said the city’s laws do not allow a large residential development on this property without a land-use change and the city failed to follow the right procedure to change it. The city also applied an erroneous “on balance” legal standard to allow admitted inconsistencies with the City’s Comprehensive Plan, which requires a development to meet all the standards and not just a select few, the release stated.

The statement added that the city deprived Concerned Citizens and the public a real opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and manner by holding a marathon meeting that did not open public comment until after 2:30 a.m. on the second day of the hearing, which lasted until 4:51 am.

“It should not take a Herculean effort to participate in a public hearing, whether you are a party or a member of the public,” the group said.

This is Concerned Citizens’ second legal challenge of the development. In January 2021, the commission approved the plan, also by a 3-1 vote. In February, Concerned Citizens appealed the commission’s decision in Circuit Court, citing due process violations and failure to comply with the law.

The group said that Morgan Group made design changes to the plan in order to bring it back before the commission.

The case is before Circuit Judge Pamela Campbell.

Attorney Ed Armstrong, who represents the Morgan Group, said there would be no comment on the appeal at this time