TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — As steady traffic hummed by on U.S. 19, an osprey's cry pierced the monotony. Thursday afternoon, Chris Hrabovsky strolled through the thick sand up to a fence on the side of the highway.
“This is the entranceway to 74 acres of pristine beauty,” he said, as he stared out across the sprawling landscape of pines and mangroves behind the fence.
There, along the Anclote River in Tarpon Springs, Texas-based developer Morgan Group wants to build 404 apartment homes in five four-story buildings. The project, known as Anclote Harbor, got the approval of the Tarpon Springs City Commission in a 3-1 vote last month.
While some voiced support of the project, others like Hrabovsky argued the development will cause traffic problems and destroy precious wildlife habitats.
“We’ve got gopher tortoises in here,” he said. “We’ve got eagles, cranes, spoonbills. This place is beautiful.”
So, opposed to the recent approval of the project, Hrabovsky and other neighbors are in the beginning stages of waging a legal battle.
On Nov. 29, a collection of neighbors known as the Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs sued the City of Tarpon Springs and the developer, challenging their decision to move forward with the project.
Friday, they plan to file an additional legal challenge that argues against the recent rezoning of the land and development plan for the site.
The previous challenge alleges the city violated its comprehensive plan in approving the development and due process rights in the manner it conducted meetings on the controversial project. The Concerned Citizens allege some people didn’t get a “meaningful” chance to speak, since a pair of public meetings lasted so long, and the commissioners didn’t ask for public input until after 2:30 a.m. in one of them.
“This commission has been trying to stifle the public from day one,” said Peter Dalacos, the President of the Concerned Citizens group.
Dalacos said commissioners and the developer should expect a tough legal fight. A similar group of neighbors deployed the same strategy in 2005 to prevent Walmart from building a supermarket on the same site.
Hrabovsky was also part of that fight.
“They need to get the message — the one that Walmart took so long to get — that they need to find another site,” he said of the current developer, Morgan Group.
Because of the challenge in court, both the Morgan Group and the city attorney for Tarpon Springs said they couldn’t comment on the challenge to ABC Action News.
If the Concerned Citizens are successful in their fight, they want to see the land converted into a nature preserve.