Board sidelines zoning changes
By KATHY SAUNDERS
TREASURE ISLAND -- What began as an uneventful session on land use regulations Wednesday turned out to be the meeting to watch. The city's Planning and Zoning Board removed the two hot-button proposals that have inspired competing newspaper ads and a voter petition drive.
Out for now, but not dead, are amendments that would have permitted taller buildings on the Gulf of Mexico and allowed developers to borrow density from adjacent land across the street to build more units on the beachfront.
"I'm not sure we know where it's headed," board member Evan Adams said. "There's a lot to be understood here."
The 15-member board voted unanimously to pull those two ideas from the recommendations they are reviewing for the City Commission. The planning board or the commission could reinsert the proposals at a later date.
Opponents of the rule changes were surprised and pleased with the board's decision, but they aren't scheduling any parties.
They still plan to present commissioners with their package of some 2,000 signatures from registered voters who want to see any land use changes on a ballot referendum.
"It's just really positive they are speaking up," Mike Daughtry said of the planning board's decision. Daughtry is a spokesman for the group pushing the referendum.
"It's a great move," said Walter Herring, who watched the meeting on cable television Wednesday night while sorting petitions. "We're still going to file the petitions. If they revert back, we want to vote."
"Nobody's celebrating yet," Sunset Beach resident Heidi Horak said. "I'd be surprised if this vanishes from the screen."
Board members said they had too many questions to go ahead with the height and density issues. They wanted to know about the financial impact of allowing bigger hotels on the beach and what exactly could be built along the beaches if the land use regulations are changed?
That's a matter of some debate.
City staff proposals allow taller hotels and motels, up to 100 feet, if developers agree to leave more space between buildings, add landscaping and provide such things as public beach access.
Business owners have asked the city to find ways of encouraging more hotels rather than small condominiums along the beach.
"We don't want to keep losing hotels," said Harry Black, manager of the Island Inn and a board member of the city's hotel/motel association.
But, he said, he believes the planning board was smart in removing the LDR proposals if members didn't understand all the implications.
"I'd rather they take their time," he said. "That's a lot to absorb."
Sunset Beach residents began their referendum campaign when they realized that land owner Ken Brown could build a hotel nearly double the size of what would be allowed today. Brown, president of the Treasure Island Business Association, owns two bars -- Beach Nutts Bar & Grill and Nick's Seabreeze Bar & Grill -- at the entrance to Sunset Beach.
Brown says he has no specific building plans in the works.
"Should there be a concern or a question?" board member Larry Yost asked. "All up and down our beach, what areas are subject to these kinds of decisions?"
Planning board member Jean Wendel said she was concerned that developers could build new structures on the east side of Gulf Boulevard on the same footprint as their original properties -- even if they transfer some of the density to the beachfront land.
"We've always talked about tradeoffs, but it's not really clear what the tradeoffs are," she said.
City Planner Lynn Rosetti said she would ask Mike Crawford of the Pinellas Planning Council to speak to planning board members and city commissioners about the density averaging issues.
"You are not adding density, you're relocating it," Rosetti said.
The concept has worked in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Dunedin, Crawford said Friday.
He said he told Rosetti the concept might work in Treasure Island because it would accomplish the city's goal of encouraging redevelopment along the beach and lowering the intensity of development along the east side of Gulf Boulevard to buffer the residential areas.
"It's pretty common in the more sophisticated communities," Crawford said. "It's a tool to allow someone to put their building on the piece that many times is more appropriate."
The planning board has set aside the first hour of its 1 p.m. meeting Thursday to review the proposed LDRs again.
The city will ask Debbie Stambaugh from the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce to make a presentation about the tourism dollars that hotels, motels and businesses bring to Treasure Island. City Building Official Mike Wichman will be on hand to talk about federal flood regulations as they pertain to heights along the beach.
"We hope that we'll be finished with this by 2 o'clock next week," Petit said.
A majority of the city commissioners said they were unsure how they would vote if the recommendations from the planning board do not include the controversial provisions.
"If the Planning and Zoning Board is not in favor of it and we already know that 2,000 people have signed that petition, I don't know what I will do," Commissioner Mary Maloof said. "I think it depends on what happens at the commission meetings and what the discussion will be.
"When it comes down to this vote, it's got to be for the good of Treasure Island," she said. "I think what people fail to realize is the impact that will take place if we don't allow some kind of redevelopment."
Commissioner Barbara Blush from Sunset Beach said she believes the planning board did the right thing.
"I never thought it was something they would rubber stamp," she said. "I have a lot of trust in the people who are on the board."
Blush said she wasn't sure how she would vote. "I did think the Planning and Zoning Board raised some interesting questions," she said.
Mayor Leon Atkinson said he wasn't going to worry about the LDRs until they get to the commission: "I'm not going to stay awake at night worrying about these things and getting heartburn until the Planning and Zoning Board comes back with its recommendations. I've got a life."
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