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ST. PETERSBURG -- Despite the strong objections of area residents and its own planning staff, the Environmental Development Commission approved the elimination of a Fourth Street N alley, citing the area's growing commercial character.
"Fourth Street is a particularly difficult situation. The city has designated it as a commercial corridor. It's going to be there. We try to make projects as acceptable as we can," EDC Chairman Robert Schumaker said Wednesday.
In the past several years, the EDC has closed several alleys along Fourth Street as well as in other areas to help redevelop the city's core area.
Developer Felix Fudge, who is presently renovating what is often called "the purple building" on the northern end of the site at 900 Fourth St. N, asked for the alley vacation to better integrate the existing building with planned new construction of a combination restaurant and retail structure.
City Planner John Hixenbaugh recommended the EDC deny the request, as well as several special exceptions, despite his description of Fudge's plans as a "signature project."
"It is painful for me to recommend denial," Hixenbaugh said. "The city must consider the impact on the surrounding neighborhood and the potential for adverse impacts."
Hixenbaugh said he believes Fudge's project will be "tremendously successful" but could find no compelling reason to close the alley to Fourth Street.
The Uptown Neighborhood Association formally opposed the vacation and the related site plan, as did several residents who live along the alley on the west side of Fourth Street.
"At some point we have to stop them. We have to slow the projects down," said Chris Peterson, a resident of the area.
EDC members listened sympathetically but said they believed closing the alley would actually make it safer for traffic entering Fourth Street.
Fudge said residents, sanitation trucks and utilities would still be able to access the alley through his parking lot.
He plans to demolish an auto repair shop and older house on the southern end of the site and replace it with a building that would house a restaurant with outside seating and retail space.
The EDC approved several special exceptions and a site plan for the project but did deny a request to reduce the number of required parking spaces.
Each month the EDC meets to consider proposed development projects that require variances or site plan approval, or requests for alley or right-of-way easements.
Among other items considered Wednesday were:
WALGREENS PHARMACY: The Friendship Colony Shopping Center at 58th Street and 38th Avenue N is about to get a facelift with the construction of a new stand-alone Walgreens Pharmacy that will be part of a planned redevelopment of the center. The existing shopping center building will be reduced in size by 22,000 square feet. The redesigned Colony Square will have parking on all sides.
BAY VILLAGE SHOPPING CENTER REVITALIZATION: International Labs, an assembler of store displays of over-the-counter and prescription drugs and nutritional goods, will move into a portion of the nearly vacant Bay Village Shopping Center at 2220 62nd Ave. S. The EDC approved a special exception and site plan to allow the light manufacturing facility in the center that once housed a Winn Dixie, Eckerd Drug Store and Pizza Hut.
SHORE ACRES FIRE STATION: A fire station at 1651 Bayou Grande Blvd. NE in Shore Acres will be demolished and replaced with a new $1.2-million facility as a result of EDC approval of a site plan and special exception. Construction of a new Fire Station No. 12 is expected to begin in May and will take about a year to complete. During construction a trailer will be placed on the site to house EMS personnel and firefighters who will continue to provide emergency and fire service to the neighborhood.
CONVENIENCE STORE: A convenience store and service station is planned on property located on the west side of 22nd Street at the Interstate 275 interchange just north of 54th Avenue N. The developer, Clear Ocean Investments Corp., developed the adjacent Cracker Barrel restaurant and said the proposed service station and convenience store will complement the restaurant and enhance services for interstate motorists.
The Environmental Development Commission is a citizens board that meets the first Wednesday of each month to review large development projects. The board reviews and approves site plans and has the power to grant exceptions to city codes for elements of projects that do not conform. Decisions of the commission can be appealed within 10 days to the City Council. After approval, the petitioner has the city's permission to go forward, although further scrutiny may be required by other governing agencies.