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Port Richey waterfront plan must walk the talk

By Times editorial
Published February 7, 2007


It is difficult to get excited about yet another plan to capitalize on Port Richey's waterfront. The city is considering a one-year building moratorium on a 30-acre area east of U.S. 19 as the first step toward an overlay district to guide how the property along the northern shore of the Pithlachascotee River could be developed.

Kudos to City Manager Jerry Calhoun for trying to instill vision into a city that too often governs by the seat of its pants. Calhoun, in fact, has the hardest job in local government right now. He is guiding a municipal government at the same time voters will consider in April whether to disband the city. With that looming overhead, credit Calhoun for attempting to continue the day to day government operations in a professional manner.

On its surface, there is little objectionable about an overlay district to determine what kinds of businesses will locate in an area and what the building exteriors will look like. It is easier to achieve in an undeveloped area, however, so the City Council can expect scrutiny from current property owners. The idea for an overlay district fell flat in Land O'Lakes, for instance, because property owners balked at potential architectural guidelines. They devised an alternative plan to present to county commissioners, but neither document altered the community's appearance.

In Port Richey, our lack of enthusiasm simply mirrors the lack of progress the city has made on its existing waterfront district - the area on the west side of U.S. 19 and north of the river.

Consultants unveiled the master plan for that area detailing a potential for hotels and shops connected by a picturesque boardwalk nearly nine years ago. At the time, the city manager called the document a marketing tool to lure private investors and government grants. It was heavy on marketing all right and called for passive recreation, residential development, museums, a bed and breakfast, large hotels, a sports rental complex and centralized parking.

Too bad nothing happened. Property at U.S. 19 and Grand Boulevard that could have become a potential site for a parking garage was turned into a gas station and convenience store. There has been little activity since to reflect any thematic planning in the area even though the council approved an overlay district there in 2002.

Now, the exercise is to be repeated on the other side of the highway. Council members may decide on a theme for the area, solicit public opinion and create building requirements that would limit new businesses there to things like hotels and restaurants. Again, parking will be a key ingredient.

If the council decides to embark on this overlay district, it needs to do more than create another planning document to sit on a shelf. Allowing paper to collect dust is an odd way to lure interest and investment in the city's top asset.

[Last modified February 6, 2007, 22:43:36]

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