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Tax district quashes request to move shopping center sign

Tampa Palms' commercial modification committee had approved of the plan. But the Tampa Palms Community Development District doesn't like it.

By SUSAN THURSTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 2001


TAMPA PALMS -- The Palm Lake shopping center has had a tough time finding its niche in New Tampa. It lost its main tenant several years ago and has struggled ever since to attract the right businesses and enough customers.

Word that Lifestyle Family Fitness was moving into the former Food Lion sparked new hope. Finally, the center along Amberly Drive at Bruce B. Downs Boulevard would have another major draw.

In anticipation of the gym, the center's developers sought to change the name to the Shoppes of Amberly and erect a bigger sign. They got permission from the Tampa Palms Owners Association, but face an obstacle from the group that owns the land where the sign would be built.

On Wednesday, the Tampa Palms Community Development District killed a request to install the new sign on its property along Bruce B. Downs. Supervisors said it was obstructive and probably violates the city's overlay district, which bans off-site signs.

"I don't think we need a bigger sign there," said Chairman Mark Fitzpatrick. "I definitely think you could reconfigure what's there."

Palm Lake officials want to replace the 14-foot brick monument sign with one 20 feet high, and install it closer to the road so it would be more visible to passing motorists. To move it, they need the taxing district's okay.

"This is a total hidden retail center," said Biff Craine, an attorney representing the developer of Palm Lake. "It's been through two bankruptcies. My client is trying to make it viable again."

Supervisors said they understood the need to advertise the center, but they opposed the dimensions and location.

"From day one we said we have problems with it," Supervisor Ed Copeland said. "What I see in this rendering does not sit with me well."

Tampa Palms' commercial modification committee approved the new sign in October. Members liked the looks and thought it would enhance the center, said Maura Lear, manager of the owners association, which enforces the community's rules for aesthetics. Members of the committee were told by Palm Lake representatives that it would meet the city's rules for signs.

"I think that their existing sign is kind of tucked away in the back," Lear said. "The committee was very receptive to a more visible sign."

The current sign was installed before the city adopted rules governing signs and landscaping in New Tampa. Supervisors suspected the sign would not be grandfathered in if it were replaced or changed.

CDD members said they would reconsider allowing the sign on district property if the developer modifies the proposal and gets the city's approval. The attorney said they had hoped for permission right away so they could have the sign in place before Lifestyle opens June 15.

- Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 226-3463.

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