County lets cities expand redevelopment
By MICHAEL SANDLER and LISA GREENE
Pinellas County commissioners told two local governments Tuesday that they can go ahead with plans to expand their downtown redevelopment districts.
But officials for Largo and Clearwater still would have to return to the county for approval of more detailed plans, and in one city's case, that may require a few significant changes.
Commissioners reserved the highest level of scrutiny for two plans presented by Largo officials, particularly for what they noticed inside the West Bay Drive redevelopment district.
What drew the most attention was that the city's plan included some pristine property -- Largo Central Park, a nature preserve, condominiums and a brand new supermarket -- but not lower income residential neighborhoods along the road.
Redevelopment districts are supposed to be reserved for property considered "blighted" or "slums."
"The way it's jumping around . . . it looks like the areas (that) ought to be included are not included," Commissioner Calvin Harris said.
They also had questions about Largo's request to expand the Clearwater-Largo Road district to allow up to 24 units per acre. That figure alarmed Commissioners Karen Seel and Susan Latvala, who thought the increased density would clear a path for developers who might purchase aging mobile home parks and replace them with apartments and condominiums.
That could force people living in the parks, many of them elderly, to move.
Seel asked that Largo officials examine the county's mobile home policies, which were designed to help residents in such situations. Latvala seconded that suggestion.
"Most of them are low-income, and to push them out, there aren't a lot of places for them to go," Latvala said.
Largo City Manager Steven Stanton said his staff intended to review the comments and make any necessary changes.
As for the boundaries in the West Bay Drive district, he said the properties in question added value because they are "public investments, and that's why they were included."
"(But) if they are not going to include a delegation of authority because those pieces are in it, we won't include them in a second time around," he said.
The plan will be discussed by Largo commissioners beginning next week, with two public hearings scheduled to follow in subsequent meetings.
Stanton said he expected a tough review from the County Commission. He hopes to satisfy their concerns when his staff returns in the months ahead to present a more detailed plan.
"I think that's their role, and we are obligated to have some legitimate answers," Stanton said. "In this area, I think it's appropriate for them to question it. Hopefully, our plan is consistent, and we will be able to convince them as to why we feel that way."
In the other presentations, Clearwater asked to extend its downtown redevelopment by about 228 acres, going east to Highland Avenue, between Drew Street to the north and Court Street to the south. Commissioners approved that request.
Tarpon Springs also asked to expand its downtown redevelopment district by adding one property, Pappas Restaurant. But county staff members said that request didn't meet the rules that such areas be "blighted," and commissioners agreed.
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