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Sensing misunderstanding, the city will take time to explain its plan to preserve the cultural bent of the Sponge Docks area.
By KATHERINE GAZELLA
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2001
TARPON SPRINGS -- After hearing from a handful of angry residents and business people, the City Commission decided Tuesday night to give residents more time to learn about a proposal that would turn the Sponge Docks area into a cultural preservation district.
Commissioners said there were still some misconceptions about the plan, which some people fear will be too restrictive of remodeling efforts and new buildings.
People in the proposed cultural district "don't want another law," said Michael Houllis, whose mother owns the Mama Pappas Gift Shop on Dodecanese Boulevard. "Don't give us any help."
Instead of voting on the cultural district in the next couple of months, the city will hold meetings with residents and bring the proposal back at a later meeting.
The designation, which has to be approved by the Planning and Zoning Board and the City Commission, would tighten building and design guidelines to preserve the cultural nature of the Sponge Docks and surrounding areas.
Local boards and city planners would review changes to historic homes and businesses in the area as well as construction of new buildings, and residents and business owners would be encouraged to preserve the area's ethnic heritage. The city would not change zoning or land-use designations in the area, said Walter Fufidio, the city's director of planning and zoning.
After hearing complaints from a few residents and business owners, commissioners said they wanted the public to hear more about the plan.
"If it's a good program, it ought to be good enough for the people who would be affected to want to be a part of it," Mayor Frank DiDonato said.
Commissioners and city staff members tried to reassure the opponents that nothing would happen without their input. They also pointed out that the proposal could bring new opportunities to the area, not just new restrictions.
"I think maybe there's a lot of misunderstanding, and people feeling like this is being shoved down their throat," said Kathy Monahan, director of cultural affairs in the city. "I can very well understand suspicion of government . . . (but) from what I'm seeing, people can do more in many cases than they could do now."
City staffers said they would set up meetings with residents and business owners who would be in the cultural district, which is the area south of the Anclote River, east of Roosevelt Boulevard, north of Park Street and west of Safford Avenue.
In other action at the Tuesday night meeting:
City Attorney John Hubbard said he was reviewing a complaint by mayoral candidate Costa Vatikiotis, who contends that Commissioners Jim Archer and Cindy Domino should be disqualified from serving on the canvassing board that oversees election returns in the March 20 election.
The two commissioners have signs in their yards supporting DiDonato, who is running for re-election. The city's charter does not allow active campaigning by commissioners who serve on the canvassing board, and Hubbard has said yard signs are a gray area of the law. Canvassing board members have a largely ceremonial role and do not count ballots unless there is a recount. The commissioners said their support of the mayor would not affect their ability to be fair.
Commissioners considered renewing the city's trash pickup contract with Waste Management at no increase in cost. City staffers did a study and found that residents' rates would go up significantly if the city were to establish its own trash pickup service. Several representatives of other trash hauling companies said the contract should have gone out to bid, although that is not required for contract renewals under city guidelines.
- Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or firstname.lastname@example.org.