TARPON SPRINGS — Construction is set to begin in the first half of 2022 on the Anclote Harbor luxury apartment complex after city commissioners voted 3-1 in the early morning hours Nov. 10 to approve the rezoning and site plan for the development.
Commissioner Costa Vatikiotis voted no and Commissioner Townsend Tarapani recused himself.
The vote could end a 15-year battle between opponents, who want the 74-acre site along U.S. 19 and the Anclote River to remain open space, and Houston-based Morgan Group who, according to one commissioner, have met or exceeded the city’s criteria required to build on the property.
The project calls for 404 apartment units in four buildings on the undeveloped land.
But opponents have promised to fight the decision, possibly in court.
The commission heard at least 24 hours of testimony for and against the project over the course of three meetings, but in the end, commissioners said they had little choice but to approve the project because it met or exceeded all requirements set by the city for development.
Vice Mayor Jacob Karr said after the decision that despite a misinformation campaign by opponents using a fake Facebook account and other tactics, opponents should have focused on preserving the land since a Walmart store was rejected for the same site 15 years ago.
“They had 15 years to do something,” Karr said. “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. Since Walmart, what has been done by the opponents or by previous commissions or the city of Tarpon Springs to purchase the property? The ball’s been dropped by several commissions and Save the Anclote to save this land in the past. Now this commission is getting the rap.”
Karr said Morgan Group exceeded requirements for developing the property.
“There’s a lot of false information out there, we’ve had tons of testimony, but we need to go by what the code says. They have gone above and beyond to far exceed anything the city would require them to do.”
Karr urged opponents to focus on future land use for preservation.
“What do you want to work on?” he said. “What do you want to see? How do we work on something for the future? Let’s put some effort behind preserving the land. That’s the real issue.”
But strong opposition was apparent in lengthy public testimony, which centered on dangerous traffic hazards and environmental issues, even veering off into an accusation that the project was merely cover for a military base. It also included testimony from residents outside of Tarpon Springs.
No new ground was broken in arguments for or against, although one unique perspective was offered by Palm Harbor resident David Ballard Geddis Jr., who said “the land is strategically positioned from a military perspective as being capable of deploying both land and sea operations.
“This location is a keystone position to establishing a military outpost-inpost here in this town disguised as a working outpost,” Geddis said.
National security conspiracies aside, opponents say they will fight the decision and are currently mulling their options.
“My clients and I will be exploring different legal options and take it from there,” said Jane Graham, attorney for Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs. “We are willing to do what it takes to continue the fight.”
Graham said that the project had at least 150 inconsistencies with the city’s comprehensive plan. She added that the commission’s procedures violated rules of due process.
“We maintain that the developer did not comply with the city’s laws and should not have been approved,” she said.
Graham said local resident Peter Dalacos has been working to preserve the land for the past 15 years. Dalacos was unavailable for comment.
Meanwhile, Morgan Group applauded the commission’s decision.
“We are pleased that the Commission has approved the Anclote Harbor plan. We look forward to providing luxury multifamily housing for Tarpon Springs, in a way that honors the site’s natural environment,” said spokesman Kamil Salame in a statement.
Barring any successful legal challenges, the development is set to open in 2024.