Safety Harbor residents speak out against large homes

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times

By Ayana Stewart 

Published November 1, 2015


SAFETY HARBOR — Susan Massarsky lives in a comfortable home on Delaware Street surrounded by tall trees.
Across the street is the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 238's building. Railroad tracks run parallel to her house. A neighbor has a large RV in his driveway, and most of the homes around her are different colors.
"It's not homogenous, and that's what I like about it," she said. "It's a cool place to live."

The 51-year-old said she's never been a "not in my back yard" type.

But she's concerned about larger homes being built in downtown Safety Harbor — and she's not alone.

Massarsky is one of 105 residents who signed a petition presented to city commissioners last week at a meeting discussing Safety Harbor's downtown master plan.


The main complaint: In the last few years, residents say they've seen an increase in large, suburban-like homes — a marked contrast from the bungalows the city is known for.

Among the requests made by residents: limit building heights to 25 feet, increase setbacks so homes aren't right next to each other and make sure trees aren't knocked down and green space isn't eliminated when building new homes.

City Commissioner Janet Hooper asked a question during last week's meeting that sums up the dilemma: How does the city preserve quaint neighborhoods without jeopardizing growth?

The answer isn't clear.

Massarsky, who shares her 1,400-square-foot home with her wife, said she understands why people want to live in Safety Harbor and welcomes new neighbors.

"We're not anti-development," she said. "We just want the houses to be smaller. That's all."

According to Safety Harbor community development director Marcie Stenmark, about 10 new homes are built each year within the city's downtown limits.

"It's not a deluge," she said. "There aren't hundreds of houses being built right now."

But she said some developers have bought older homes, knocked them down and built larger homes instead — a trend examined in a recent Tampa Bay Times report.

Glenn McKinney's family moved to Safety Harbor from the greater Los Angeles area in 2004. The 49-year-old financial adviser said he saw his old neighborhood become "very dense."

McKinney fears the same thing could happen locally if developers continue to tear down homes.

"I don't want our town to turn into what I left in the suburbs of Los Angeles," he said. "I have no regrets, but I do have concerns."

During the commission meeting last week, residents came up one by one and shared similar qualms about new development: The homes are large and too close together. There's not enough green space. Safety Harbor will lose its niche if the city doesn't do something.

One resident read the definition of quaint to the commission.

City Manager Matt Spoor said it'll take the city's staff time to figure out a solution — and there's no overnight answer.

He added that building large homes isn't allowed in all of the city. Because of the way the city's zoning is structured, larger homes can be built downtown.

"There are some hurdles in this discussion when it comes to private property rights," he said. "We could change our code tomorrow, but we'd get a lawsuit from a property owner and it's all for naught."

For Sharon McAuley, a 68-year-old resident who circulated the petition, change needs to happen more quickly.

"I feel like we're not moving fast enough," she said. "Builders are buying up places and building really quickly."

McAuley moved to Safety Harbor five years ago because of its historical feel.

"I just feel like these houses belong in subdivisions," she said. "We're not looking to be a big city."

Massarsky said she doesn't understand people who "live in 3,000-square-foot homes but want their neighbors to keep their small bungalows."

"A lot of people want to cram a subdivision home on a downtown lot, and it just doesn't look right," she said. "It's a trade-off."

But Rosa Burgman, who lives in a 2,900-square-foot home on Iron Age Street S, said she doesn't see an issue.

Burgman moved into her home six months ago, and there's another large home being built right next door.

"I feel like it enhances the city," she said. "Progress is a good thing."