TARPON SPRINGS — When the developers of the 236-unit luxury apartment complex Icaria on Pinellas met with Tarpon officials last summer to discuss a compromise in the ongoing construction of the Meres Boulevard Extension Project, city leaders rejected DDA Development’s plea to allow temporary certificates of occupancy for the completed buildings in exchange for the Tampa firm covering additional roadway improvements and environmental remediation on the adjacent construction site.
After a brief discussion the commission voted 5-0 to deny the proposed agreement, which included Tarpon paying $347,000 to the developer for construction elements the city requested, leading to a stern rebuttal from DDA manager and principal, Bowen Arnold.
“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,” Arnold said via email. “We offered the City what we thought was a fair compromise, in return for the ability to move some of the 45+ residents whom have signed leases into this exciting new development. We have done everything we have promised to do over the past 3+ years, and we’re asking for some cooperation.”
The commission’s decision led to a lawsuit being filed by Meres Crossing LLC, the owners of the land, and on Tuesday, July 27, the BOC voted 5-0 in favor of settling the suit in the amount of $700,000.
While the decision was somewhat mitigated by the fact that Florida League of Cities insurance would cover $300,000 of the total, and the city’s insurance carries a $25,000 deductible, leaving Tarpon on the hook for roughly $77,000, it still proved to be a costly lesson for the city, according to one official.
“The developer came to the city back in August of last year and said if they were to get a temporary certificate of occupancy they wouldn’t sue the city,” Vice Mayor Jacob Karr said when the agenda item was read. “At the time, the board couldn’t come to an agreement with the developer, so the developer then moved forward with the lawsuit. At that time the commission could’ve made this work, but at the end of the day the city is now out $77,000.”
Karr said he thought the commission “had the opportunity to make it right at that point with a small gesture with a temporary CO with one of the buildings, but that didn’t happen. Again, it was a majority rules, so it was kind of a lesson learned for the board.”
Mayor Chris Alahouzos, who was adamant about not allowing residents to occupy Icaria units until the work on Meres Boulevard was completed, said he had no further comment on the subject, and the commission voted unanimously in favor of approving the settlement.
After the meeting, Alahouzos reiterated his position on the situation.
“In my opinion it was not a mistake, because we promised the people of Tarpon Springs we were not going to authorize them to use the property until they finished the road, and that’s exactly what we did,” he said by phone, adding, “I’m not going to feel bad about doing something we told the people we were going to do.” Asked if he was happy that the final chapter in the long-running saga has been closed, the mayor replied, “I’m glad it’s over and we got a beautiful new street that is going to eliminate traffic on South Pinellas Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard, and it gives us another evacuation route in case of an emergency.”
For his part, Arnold said via email DDA was happy to be moving on, as well.
"We are happy to put the issues behind us and to move forward with successfully operating Icaria on Pinellas,” Arnold wrote, adding, “We are fully occupied, have great residents, and hope people see the development as complementing everything happening within the City."