tampabay.com

West Bay Drive district grows vertically in newest proposal

With parking, affordable homes or shops, buildings could be 10 stories tall.

By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
Published November 15, 2007


LARGO - City Commissioners got a glimpse Tuesday night of the evolving plan to turn the West Bay Drive corridor into a more vibrant district, with lots of shops, homes and entertainment.

Over the past several months, city staff has tweaked the West Bay Drive Community Redevelopment Plan with advice from 45 local merchants, residents and property owners.

Most who offered their opinions told staff they would like to see mixed-use development, with a combination of shops, offices and homes. But they also want the district to be a safe, walkable community with lots of landscaping.

The original West Bay Drive plan, adopted in 1997, guided the creation of West Bay Village, a $12-million project with townhomes and stores.

The new plan discussed at Tuesday's City Commission work session includes about 330 acres north and south of West Bay Drive. It spans from west of the Pinellas Trail to Highland Avenue.

The plan could lead to a more vertical West Bay Drive district, with some buildings as high as 10 stories in mixed-use areas. Now, most buildings in the area are one and two stories tall.

Most commissioners supported proposed elements of the plan and did not express concern over taller buildings downtown.

But Commissioner Mary Gray Black, who has mentioned height concerns before, disagreed.

"I still state my opposition to 10-story buildings," Black said.

Program planner Deborah Lyons, who presented the plan, said developers would have to incorporate various features into their plans to take advantage of incentives to build taller buildings or more homes.

For example, to qualify for bonuses to build taller, denser projects, developers must incorporate parking, affordable homes or a mix of commercial and multifamily homes.

"By the time you get to maxing all of this out, it's going to be a pretty premium development," Lyons said Tuesday afternoon. "You're going to have to be working pretty closely with the city."

Lyons said the height of buildings would also be graduated so there wouldn't be 10-story buildings next to single -family homes.

Mayor Pat Gerard was most concerned with how long it would take to approve a new plan.

Lyons said she hopes to have a draft of the plan ready for City Commission work session in January and a new plan ready for initial approval by spring. The plan would also require county and state approval before returning to the commission for final approval.

Also Tuesday, city commissioners discussed the possibility of a one-time, cost-of-living adjustment for Largo police and fire department retirees. They also asked staff to look into whether an annual cost-of-living allowance is feasible in the future.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 727 445-4155.