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    Plan will reward focused growth

    The City Commission is set this week to approve a redevelopment plan that will affect two areas on the periphery of downtown.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Hoping to spark the growth of waterfront high-rises, townhomes, shops and offices to the north and south of downtown's core, the City Commission is slated this week to approve a redevelopment plan for the areas.

    "There's a big incentive built into this plan for people to try to consolidate land for development," said Gina Clayton, who has overseen the project as a senior planner for the city. "Obviously, it would promote residential growth, especially on the waterfront. That's a great opportunity for new development that could support downtown."

    The new "downtown periphery plan," which has been in the works since 1993, lays out a vision that mainly affects two areas.

    The largest is a 67-acre area of historic homes, small modern houses, offices and auto shops northwest of downtown. The area is bounded roughly by Nicholson Street on the north, the Pinellas Trail on the west, Jones Street on the south and Clearwater Harbor on the east.

    Under the new neighborhood plan, a slice of that area, between the harbor and Garden Avenue, is being primed for the development of high-rise condominiums. Anyone who can consolidate two acres of land there would be allowed to build 50 housing units per acre where they are now limited to only 7.5 units per acre in some areas.

    And the height of allowed buildings would be increased from as low as 40 feet to be virtually limitless -- as long as developers can convince city planners their proposed buildings meet special criteria, such as having exceptionally attractive designs and not harming the surrounding area's property values.

    The new zoning also would make it possible to build apartments and new offices east of the bayfront between Garden Avenue and the Pinellas Trail, as long as developers have 1 acre of land.

    "The hope is someone could build townhomes oriented to the trail," Clayton said.

    The other 19-acre area that is going to be affected is southwest of downtown, between Fort Harrison Avenue and the Pinellas Trail, north of Druid Road.

    That's where the city plans to change a hodgepodge of zoning districts. The new plan would allow commercial development along Fort Harrison and only residential and office space in the rest of the area.

    Developers in that area also would get the opportunity to develop higher buildings with more units, with new rules similar to those proposed for the zone northwest of downtown.

    In both areas, new industrial uses such as car repair shops or manufacturing would no longer be allowed.

    Existing industries would be allowed to stay as long as they have a city business license, Clayton said. But once a license lapses, the land will have to be used for housing, office space or shops in an area along Fort Harrison.

    "We just did not feel that industrial uses in these areas was quite appropriate for a downtown setting, and to build a residential downtown neighborhood," Clayton said.

    Public meetings about the downtown neighborhood plan began last fall. So far, there has been little public opposition to creating what one official dubbed a new "gold coast" for redevelopment north of downtown.

    A few people have raised concerns about the zoning changes affecting their existing businesses, the proposed heights of new buildings and the demolition of turn-of-the-century homes scattered throughout the northwest area slated for redevelopment.

    The commission will discuss the plan at a 1 p.m. workshop today at City Hall, 112 S Osceola Ave., and will take a vote on it Thursday at 6 p.m. The changes will be official on March 1, when the commission takes a second vote.

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