Tensions flare between Oldsmar council members as town home development agreement approved

Oldsmar City Council member Jerry Beverland makes a point about the proposed town home development on St. Petersburg Drive as fellow council member Gabby McGee listens on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017.

The Oldsmar City Council officially approved the development agreement for a proposed town home community on St. Petersburg Drive Tuesday, but despite several prior votes and debates on the subject, the discussion was not without conflict.

The agreement between the City and Oldsmar Towns, LLC calls for a maximum of 50 single-family town homes to be built on 3.79 acres next to the Oldsmar Public Library. The complex will be comprised of three-story buildings of four and six units with two-car garages, plus an amenity area featuring grills, benches and greenspace on the south side of the property.

A conceptual drawing of the preliminary site plan for the proposed 50-unit town home development on St. Petersburg drive near downtown Oldsmar. (Credit: City of Oldsmar)

Concessions the developer made include building School Street, a through street connecting St. Pete Drive with East Arlington Avenue; the street will include removable bollards, or cement filled cylinders, to allow access for emergency vehicles.

Also, a cobblestone vinyl fence will be erected at the east end of the property to provide separation between the development and the adjacent residential neighborhood.

While all five council members said the terms of the agreement were favorable, it was the previously approved the sale of the land that rankled one.

Oldsmar City Council member Jerry Beverland.

“Four months ago, we voted for the CBRE…and I thought it was a pretty good idea,” Council member Beverland said of the city enlisting the renowned commercial real estate services company to evaluate certain properties in town.

“And then four months later, Gabby (McGee) and Dan (Saracki) and (Mayor Doug Bevis) vote against it. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Beverland’s displeasure concerned the sale price of the land.

Last month, the City agreed to sell the parcel to the Palm Harbor based developer for $877,182, an amount considerably less than estimates for the land, which had been valued at roughly $1.2 million.

“There’s a possibility that we are losing a quarter of a million dollars in the land sale,” Beverland said on Tuesday. “If you’re going to hire somebody like the CBRE, and then turn around four months later and vote against it, to me that says something about the council and your judgements.”

“The inconsistency of this is startling to me.”

A developer plans to build a 50-unit town home community on four acres next to the Oldsmar Public Library.

Mayor Bevis calmly explained the firm was initially hired to assess property earmarked for the long-gestating downtown development project, adding “the land is only worth what somebody is willing to pay for it,” and noting the property has been vacant for many years with no one expressing interest in developing it until now.

But Beverland’s comments struck a nerve with several council members, including McGee, who staunchly defended her position in voting to approve the sale.

Oldsmar City Council member Gabby McGee.

“We hired (CBRE) to give us guidance, and at the end of the day, as a council it’s up us to make the best decisions for the city, and I will say I defend my decision,” McGee, who recently announced her run for reelection in March, said.

She went on to support the mayor’s view that the land is only worth what someone will pay for it, and she noted the new project could serve a linchpin for spurring future downtown growth and development.

“The property across the street has been owned by John Bews for a very long time,” McGee said. “I have seen the plans in writing, five years ago before I was even on council, they have still not come to fruition.”

“Do I want to wait eight years for another development to be built to actually create a downtown here in Oldsmar? I don’t.”

Council member Eric Seidel, who originally opposed the sale, prompting the city to have CBRE reassess its value, said that ship has sailed and it’s time to focus on the new project.

Oldsmar City Council member Eric Seidel.

“I’ve made my opinion well known when it comes to the price,” he said. “But we already sold the property, a deal was made, and it would be wrong to change it.”

Seidel, who is also up for reelection in March, added he appreciated the concessions the developer made.

“I appreciate the plans have come back with compromises the council asked for,” he said, noting the fence “went further than we expected” and is “aesthetically pleasing.”

“I speak in favor of the approval. It’s a good looking project.”

With that, the council voted on the agreement, which passed by a vote of 4-1, with Beverland casting the lone dissenting vote.

A day after the meeting, Beverland elaborated on his comments to his fellow council members.

“They’re totally inconsistent, which I told them. They didn’t care about losing a quarter of a million dollars, which I told them. And they didn’t look out for the best interests of the citizens of Oldsmar, which I told them,” he said by phone.

“So, I think I let my feelings be known last night.”

Mayor Bevis also weighed in on the issue Wednesday.

Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis.

“I think the revised document reflected the changes that were proposed at the last meeting,” he told Oldsmar Connect by phone.

“I think the value of the property is in the entirety of the project, now and moving forward.”

As for Beverland’s comments, which included pointed references to one-on-one debates and future election results, the mayor didn’t pull any punches.

“I was not happy that for the third time, future elections were part of the dialog, insinuating that’s how we should base our votes,” Bevis said. “I think that’s below our council and I think it’s unfortunate.”

“At the end of the day, if you can justify how and why you voted and back it up with facts and reasons, that’s all that matters, not basing your vote on future election results, as if to say you should vote a certain way or I’ll debate you.”

“We pride ourselves on respecting each other’s opinions and views on this council,” he added.

“I have the utmost respect for Jerry, but it’s disappointing how this was handled.”

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