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Report: Bold plan can avert ugly future

Consultants say St. Pete Beach must fix unsafe and unsightly areas if it wants to keep residents and tourists.

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 13, 2003


ST. PETE BEACH -- How should the city look in the future?

Definitely not the way it looks now, say the consultants who will discuss implementation of a new master plan at a special public workshop April 22.

The consultants, hired at a cost of about $150,000, gave the City Commission an interim report last month that praised the city's residential, commercial and tourist destination resources but bluntly stated that the city is headed in the wrong direction.

The city's character is often "dissonant" and in many areas unsafe and unsightly. "There is a trend in some cases of disinvestment," said Pete Sechler, a senior associate with the Orlando-based Glatting Jackson consulting firm, citing commercial properties along Gulf Boulevard that are nearing the end of their useful lives.

"The challenge is what do you want to be? You need to think big," Sechler said.

Glatting Jackson has been asked to define the city's vision for growth and to propose specific projects and timelines. The primary focus is on the Corey Avenue/Blind Pass business district and the Gulf Boulevard corridor and how those commercial and tourist areas can blend with the city's residential core.

Sechler and his team of planners listed eight issues to be addressed in the master planning:

1. Establishing St. Pete Beach as the best gulf resort community serving both local and visitor needs.

2. Creating an identity as a memorable place.

3. Preserving and enhancing the city's culture, beach and waterfront environment.

4. Ensuring the city's economic viability as a prime destination, while balancing public use and access and private economic development.

5. Addressing transportation concerns, ensuring livable solutions that include a bicycle and pedestrian circulation system.

6. Using public resources to leverage private investment.

7. Establishing management and operational systems and programs to support the goals of the master plan.

8. Establishing a legal framework to support the plan's mission.

Although the consultants have not formulated any specific solutions, several ideas were presented as examples of what might be included in the master plan. Among them:

Changing building heights and lot coverage regulations to create more green space between buildings on Gulf Boulevard while discouraging the canyon effect of tall buildings;

Creating pedestrian-friendly connections between the gulf and the bay;

Creating a narrow, city-long park celebrating the city's natural dune environment between the gulf and gulf-side commercial development;

Allowing adjacent businesses to construct joint parking structures to reduce the parking lot image of Gulf Boulevard;

Rezoning now-residential land behind existing strip commercial centers to allow deeper commercial lots that would encourage redevelopment;

Restriping Gulf Boulevard to create wider bike trails and traffic islands serving as both pedestrian refuges and beautification;

Encouraging north and southbound traffic to use Blind Pass Road all the way to Gulf Boulevard to reduce current traffic congestion;

Redesigning Dolphin Village as a second town center.

"Folks here have a lot of hope," Sechler said, calling for the city to become the address of a great destination city and a great place to live.

The April 22 master plan implementation workshop will be at 6:30 p.m. at the city gymnasium. A report on the findings of that workshop will be presented at 6:30 p.m. April 24 to the City Commission.

"This is the most exciting, historical thing we've done in St. Pete Beach," said Commissioner Julie Christman. "I can't believe how many people still don't know we are doing it."

The consultants' final master plan recommendations will be presented to the city in June.

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