By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
© St. Petersburg Times,
ST. PETERSBURG -- A downtown Publix grocery story and adjacent luxury apartments were granted an enthusiastic but cautious approval by the Environmental Development Commission on Wednesday.
The enthusiasm was generated by the prospect of additional upscale development -- and a downtown grocery store -- that continues and expands St. Petersburg's downtown revival.
The caution came in a series of conditions the city wants met before it will totally give away a portion of Third Avenue S and several related alleys and streets.
Key among those conditions is completion of financing for the project and the pulling of building permits within two years of the projects' final approval by the City Council.
"This is all contingent on the project moving forward," stressed City Planner John Hixenbaugh as he recommended the EDC approve the complex vacations and proposed site plan. "The street vacations are tied to evidence of finishing the project."
With the EDC approval in hand, the developers -- BayWalk developer Sembler Co. and ZOM Development Inc. of Orlando -- must still get approval from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency and the City Council.
"This is a great project. It's exciting and very well done," said EDC Commissioner Douglas Robison, who voted for approval despite his unsuccessful attempt to forever bar the development from closing off a required pedestrian access between Third and Second streets S.
Instead, the EDC accepted Joel Giles' argument that the residential portion of the development needed to be able to "control" outsiders' access.
"We have to keep the safety of the residents in mind," said Giles, who represented the developers. By keeping the 10-foot walkway private property, he said, any people posing a "safety threat" could be forced to leave.
He stressed that the developers have no plans to install fencing or locked gates. The public will also be able to use an adjacent parking lot to traverse between the two main streets.
The proposed University Village, located between Second and Fourth avenues and Third and Second streets S, will mean the closing of a portion of Third Avenue S, as well as an alley southeast of Third Street and Third Avenue S, and a portion of Charles Court S and a related alley.
East-west access was a main concern of neighborhood residents during the hearing.
"Over the years the city has really cut us off from the waterfront," said Timothy Baker, citing a number of previous alley vacations approved by the city. Baker, representing the North Downtown Neighborhood Association, said the organization was in favor of the project.
"We are very, very supporting of this project," said area resident John Owen, president of the University Park Neighborhood Association.
The project will include a 28,000-square-foot Publix grocery store as well as retail shops along both Third and Second streets S. The rear of the store, facing north along Second Avenue S, will be architecturally finished with an arbor and landscaping.
A 250-unit, three-story luxury apartment complex will be located on the southern portion of the site. The O-shaped building will include apartments on the north, east and west sides and rowhouse-type townhouse units facing the south. The main entry will face the retail center and will open onto the east-west public access.
ZOM also has a related 275-unit apartment complex under development two blocks to the south of the University Village site.
"This project will benefit the downtown and the southside neighborhood, which we believe has been underserved for years. It will be a much needed amenity," Giles said.
None of the proposed redevelopment will happen, however, unless Dew Cadillac, which presently occupies the site, is able to find and move to a new site -- and if no problems develop in meeting the city's financing, permit and other requirements within the two-year time limit.
Groundbreaking is currently projected for sometime in 2003, according to the developers.
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