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Hitch may trim back proposal for tower

St. Petersburg is challenging a claim that size limits should not apply for the 42-story Bayway Lofts high-rise.

By CARRIE JOHNSON
Published July 23, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG - Developer Grady Pridgen's ambitious plan to build the city's tallest condominium tower has hit its first major obstacle, a setback that could dramatically affect the scope of the 42-story project.

City officials are challenging Pridgen's claim that his building should not be subject to size limits and have rejected his application for building permits.

This may not kill the proposed 510-foot tower, planned for a site at Third Avenue N between Second and Third streets where several empty houses stand. But it could mean Pridgen will have to reduce the height by as much as 50 percent unless he finds another way to reconfigure his building plans or shrink the size of the $50-million project.

Pridgen said he is "tweaking" his proposal and will meet with planners today to discuss proposed changes. For now, he's moving ahead with his plan for the 277-unit tower.

"We've always been good neighbors," Pridgen said. "And, as always, we want to build a quality project."

The city's concerns come as nearby residents are opposing the project.

"People are especially worried that the proposed building, which would be the largest in Pinellas County, would simply overwhelm a neighborhood that is primarily two- and three-story residential buildings," Timothy Baker, president of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association, wrote in a letter to City Council members.

Martha Haile lives in Huntington Townhomes, three-story residences next to the site of the proposed tower. She's afraid the building would cast a shadow over the entire complex.

"When we look out our second-story windows, we'll see nothing but parking garage," Haile said. "This really is out of character for our neighborhood."

While it is the tallest, Bayway Lofts isn't the only large-scale condominium project proposed for downtown St. Petersburg. Opus South Corp. plans to build two 30-story towers in the 300 and 400 blocks of Beach Drive NE.

Under city ordinance, developers can receive bonuses that allow them to exceed size restrictions in certain zoning districts. The bonuses are distributed in exchange for including such features as landscaping, trees and public art.

To accommodate Bayway Lofts, which will soar 125 feet above the Bank of America building, Pridgen asked for several bonuses.

The city is questioning two of them.

In his application, Pridgen said he was entitled to a bonus for devoting 10 percent of the development to open space.

However, the open space included in Pridgen's plans are a rooftop garden. The city says open space is supposed to be at ground level where it can be appreciated by all city residents.

Pridgen also said his project deserves another bonus for using an alternate energy source for the building. But his application does not provide details.

Pridgen said he plans to use solar energy for the building's electricity, as well as heating the water for residents and the tower's swimming pool.

Aside from those issues, the developer could seek additional bonuses to qualify for the full height, said John Hixenbaugh, the city's zoning official. He also said the city can't sign off on Pridgen's plans until the Federal Aviation Administration reviews what effect the project might have on Albert Whitted Airport.

The Environmental Development Commission will not consider the project until the FAA issues its ruling.

"Basically, it's just a waiting game right now," Pridgen said.

- Carrie Johnson can be reached at 727 892-2273 or cjohnson@sptimes.com

[Last modified July 23, 2003, 01:18:16]


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