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Unofficial winners suggest Oldsmar voters said 'no' to controversial plan for downtown

A plan to encourage downtown development became the central campaign issue
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Posted at 7:57 AM, Mar 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-22 15:09:57-04

OLDSMAR, Fla. — It wasn't party politics that shaped a pair of elections in Oldsmar. Instead, a plan to encourage downtown development became the central campaign issue.

Oldsmar's current leadership has sought to transform the city's downtown by attracting development at an eight-acre piece of city-owned land adjacent to Oldsmar City Hall. The city has described the site as a potential "catalyst" for downtown development.

Tuesday, according to unofficial election results, the two men opposed to the downtown transformation plan were victorious by slim margins. Dan Saracki, a current councilman, ousted Mayor Eric Seidel, the incumbent. Additionally, Jarrod Buchman was elected to fill Saracki's council seat.

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Both Saracki and Buchman have spoken against an ordinance — supported by Seidel — that would amend the Comprehensive Plan of the City of Oldsmar and offer an incentive, or bonus, to developers that would allow them to put additional "residential units" on the property if they agree to build a "vertically-integrated mixed-use development."

In other words, instead of the current allowance of 30 units per acre, a developer could build up to 65 apartment units per acre if the project also includes a combination of shops, restaurants, a parking garage, and public spaces.

"I feel like I have presented a plan to actually build one that won't cost the taxpayers a lot of money," Seidel, the current mayor, said Tuesday.

While the city said it's negotiating with a potential developer for the property near City Hall, Seidel reminded that any specific development proposal for the site would have to go through a separate public approval process.

According to a fact sheet on the city website, issues concerning "traffic, water, sewer, schools, environmental" would be studied during that process.

While not opposed to downtown development, Saracki voted against the mayor's proposed development incentive during a Dec. 7 council meeting.

Saracki argued any development of Oldsmar's downtown should honor the city's "hometown feel."

"The people of Oldsmar do not want this density increase," Saracki told ABC Action News in a December interview. "They want a city where we have golf carts, bicycling, walkability. They don't want massive buildings."

Pushing back against Seidel's proposal for downtown became a central tenet of Saracki's campaign, which won the support of voters like Dave McDonald.

"We all want a walkable downtown. We all want to come down here to a restaurant, ice cream parlor, coffee shop, whatever," he said Tuesday. "But we want smart development. We want something that's workable and won't change the structure of our town and cause dramatic impacts."

Meanwhile, even if the elections of Saracki and Buchman are officially confirmed, the two new leaders might not have the power to stop other city leaders from approving the downtown development incentive.

With the exception of Saracki's no vote in the Dec. 7 meeting, the rest of Oldsmar City Council voted to approve the incentive ordinance. A second and final vote is scheduled for Apr. 5.

However, a lawsuit filed by McDonald on Monday tries to pump the brakes.

Even though current mayor Seidel said his administration was transparent with the process of discussing and debating the downtown development issue, McDonald's complaint claims otherwise.

In particular, the lawsuit alleges that at least 30 to 40 taxpayers did not get a chance to weigh in on the controversial change when they couldn't squeeze into the packed December meeting.

"I've talked to at least 10 or 12 of them — actually got signed documents from them saying that they would testify in court that they were precluded from being able to voice their concerns in the meeting," McDonald said.

Seidel couldn't comment about the pending litigation Tuesday.

Meanwhile, if the unofficial election results are upheld, Saracki and Buchman will be sworn in on Tuesday, Mar. 22.

On March 1, the City Council directed the City Manager to host three public open houses to present the essential terms and conceptual plan of a proposed development agreement for 6.22 acres of land adjacent to the Oldsmar Library. The proposed development would contain 82 3-story townhouse units, which include 16 live/work units along St. Petersburg Drive.

You can learn more about the project at one of the opportunities:
Wednesday, March 23 from 6-8 p.m. at TECO Hall in the Library
Thursday, March 24 from 1-3 p.m. at the Gull Aire Village Clubhouse
Saturday, March 26 from 9 -11 a.m. at the Cypress Forest Recreation Center