The spit of land is less than 1 acre but it is one of the last undeveloped parcels on tony Harbour Island.
In the past year, the prime land at 500 Knights Run has been the center of a dispute between its owner, Knights Harbour LLC, and residents of the island immediately south of downtown Tampa.
Last week, the Tampa City Council rejected the development company’s request to keep operating a parking lot for cruise ship passengers who pay to store their vehicles while sailing off on vacations. Vans shuttle the passengers to and from vessels docked at Channelside.
The company also sought permission to park cars on the land for special events.
Knights Harbour bought the Knights Run parcel in April 2011 with hopes of developing a condominium or office building. Meantime, with the economy floundering, there was an interim plan: charge for each of 91 parking spots while waiting for a development offer to materialize or a buyer to emerge.
Co-owner Sebring Sierra had a one-word explanation: profit.
“We thought it was an allowed use,” he said. “It is in no way the final use. There’ll be a class A property one day. This is an interim use.”
He had wanted council members to allow the parking lot to operate for five years, with an option to extend for one year. Code enforcement inspectors have cited owners for illegally operating the parking lot. At an October hearing, code board members gave the owners until April 3 to resolve the matter or face fines of $100 a day for operating the parking lot, city records show.
Residents and city planners said Harbour Island’s development plan does not allow stand-alone parking lots. Garages that are part of a building’s structure are preferred. The few parking lots on the island are connected to commercial establishments such as the Harbour Island Athletic Club.
“It’s not like someone forgot to add surface parking to a list (of allowed uses) that includes marinas, residential dwellings, hotels, convention centers, recreational facilities and even a TECO (Tampa Electric Co.) substation and a heliport,” said Councilman Harry Cohen. “Surface parking was left out on purpose. It’s not in harmony with the existing character of the island.”
Nearly 30 Harbour Island residents and leaders of homeowners’ associations opposed the parking lot at a recent public hearing. The city’s planning staff and the county’s planning commission staff objected to the proposal, citing it as incompatible with Harbour Island’s character.
The island’s architectural review board also was in opposition.
“It is in our opinion an eyesore,” said Steve Wigh, who serves on the board and is president of the Piazza Neighborhood Association.
The triangular island of about 213 acres — it formerly was called Seddon Island — is surrounded by Seddon, Garrison and Sparkman channels, and is connected to downtown and Channelside by two bridges. It was zoned in 1987 as one of Tampa’s first master-planned communities.
Many residents said the parking lot would increase traffic and noise. They also worried about declining property values and increases in theft and vandalism. On rainy days, cruise passengers waiting for vans have sought shelter on private property. They have left litter in the parking lot and on roadways.
“It impacts our environment,” said Evan Kantor. “It compromises our safety.”
Sierra said the parcel at one time was used to store construction equipment when Harbour Island was being built. Residents also used the lot for parking until the practice was stopped for liability reasons, he said.
The parking lot produces less traffic than what future development might bring from apartments or a condiminium, he said.
“If a helistop (helicopter landing pad) fits, how does a parking lot not fit?” Sierra said. “I just don’t understand it.”
Property owners on Harbour Island, including Sierra, have to sign agreements to follow by-laws and abide by design and aesthetics guidelines, said Joyce Schauer, president of Harbour Island Community Services Association.
“He has failed to follow our rules … and he has virtually thumbed his nose at Harbour Island’s governance,” she said.
Barbara Mayer has lived on Harbour Island for 23 years. It is a community so safe that she said children play ball in the streets.
“We are talking about bringing strangers on to Harbour Island who have no business being there,” she said. “It’s strictly a money-making venture and it’s not our fault they can’t sell it now.”