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    Council decisions met with applause

    Residents cheered when the City Council approved codes that require projects to have the look of Old Florida and 100 acres in the commercial redevelopment district were rezoned.

    By MEGAN SCOTT
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 17, 2003


    OLDSMAR -- The City Council decided Tuesday that its future should be in the past.

    Council members unanimously approved new codes requiring developers to build projects with an Old Florida look and feel: bungalow and vernacular style homes, and buildings that look as though they come straight out of the 1920s.

    Council members then went on to approve a map rezoning portions of about 100 acres that make up the commercial redevelopment district. That area is bordered by Tampa Road on the north, Bayview Boulevard on the west and St. Petersburg Drive to the south and east.

    When the last aye was uttered and the motion to approve the map carried 5-0, the council chamber erupted in applause. Downtown residents who made up most of the audience stood and cheered.

    "This brings closure of 13 horrible years for me," Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland said.

    Council members had voted to approve the code and map at its meeting April 1. But new council member Jim Ronecker asked the council to table the votes until the next meeting, saying he needed more time to review the plans.

    This time, though, he was ready.

    "Clearly your voice was heard," Ronecker said to the residents. "I thank you for coming out and speaking your mind."

    For years, city officials have been working on a plan to reshape downtown with small shops, restaurants and professional offices. They came up with an idea for an Old Florida look, consisting of Colonial Revival, Georgian and Victorian-style buildings.

    And then they began tweaking the town center development code, a list of rules that regulate growth.

    Officials from the Oldsmar/Upper Tampa Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce had proposed increasing the allowable density in the downtown area to bring in more residents who could help create a vibrant downtown market.

    Developers will be more likely to build if there is a large base of customers in the area. The increased density would also help builders recoup the additional expense of having to adhere to the architectural standards outlined in the code, said Kevin Gartland, president of the chamber.

    That idea would become the center of debate.

    Residents who lived downtown didn't want development to extend into their neighborhoods.

    "The reason I live here and not Clearwater is because I like being in a small community," said Jeff Wharton at Tuesday's meeting. "To go into an existing neighborhood with the idea of disrupting the whole thing. . . ."

    In the end, they all came to a compromise that keeps denser redevelopment out of residential neighborhoods downtown.

    The densities on Park and Bayview boulevards will remain at 7.5 units per acre. On St. Petersburg Drive between Bayview Boulevard and Washington Avenue, the density will be 12 units per acre. It will be 15 units per acre in the area south of State Street and State Road 580 and along a portion of St. Petersburg Drive.

    The area between Tampa Road and State Street will have more units per acre than any other area in the downtown redevelopment block. The new redevelopment rules will allow developers to build up to 30 units per acre in that area bordered by Bayview Boulevard to the west and Clarendon and Mystic streets to the east.

    "This zoning map as it appears right now is something we can live with," said Ruben Hernandez, council member Janice Miller's husband. "Anything in the boulevards is totally unacceptable."

    Later, Gartland said he was disappointed in the council's decision not to double the densities in certain areas. The architectural standards and increasing the density go hand and hand, he said.

    But all in all, he's just glad it's over with. He called it a "moral victory."

    "We got a lot of what we want," he said about the plan. "It's what we have to work with and we'll do our best. I think we'll have some success."

    -- Megan Scott can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or mscott@sptimes.co .

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