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Town center deemed priority

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  • | 5:00 a.m. February 16, 2011
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The town hopes future amendments to the Comprehensive Plan will help revitalize the island’s shopping centers and create a town center along Bay Isles Road.

The Planning and Zoning Board directed town special counsel attorney Nancy Stroud at its Tuesday, Feb. 15 regular meeting to report back with amendments that could make that happen.

“Right now, we are a town without a town,” said Planning Board Chairwoman B.J. Webb.

The rest of the planning board agreed, but debated to what lengths the town would be willing to amend its Comprehensive Plan to spruce up the centers and create a better town.

Stroud told the board that the town can assist in the revitalization process by making amendments that could encourage the transformation of Avenue of the Flowers into a town center that stretched down Bay Isles Road and the revitalization of the aging Whitney Beach Plaza on the north end of the island.

“Revitalization, according to the Vision Plan, is desired, but within a historical balance between residential, tourism and commercial uses,” Stroud said. “You want better, not bigger.”

Stroud explained that future amendments could include mixed-use and office spaces at Whitney Beach Plaza.

“The town can assist in revitalization but cannot substitute for the work of the market and private property owners,” Stroud said. “We can explore new land-use applications.”

Noting that Avenue of the Flowers is already a planned-unit development, which already allows the town to consider design flexibilities, Stroud explained that a town center could include the three acres of vacant residential property behind the Longboat Key Publix as part of its town center.

But a revitalization of Whitney Beach Plaza is more difficult. That’s because a town-wide referendum would be needed to ask the voters to allow for any residential to be included on the commercial site. And the town could add another land-use category that would allow for a mix of both office and retail space at the center.

“We need to ask ourselves what we want the northern entrance of this island to look like,” Webb said. “It’s the first dynamic piece of property that will indicate who and what we are.”

The planning board agreed that amendments to the Comprehensive Plan need to allow for as much flexibility as possible, so the town can review future redevelopment projects in those two areas that are as creative as possible.

“The broader and more flexible we can make future development proposals, the better it is for the future and long-term vision of this Key,” said board member Allen Hixon.

And although board member Bradford Saivetz suggested the town might receive proposals asking for 15-story buildings, Webb said that’s not the case.

“This town already feels strongly about height limitations and wouldn’t allow an open-ended category in that regard,” Webb said.

The focus on a town center also led the planning board to give Planning, Zoning and Building Director Monica Simpson direction to address the issue of a perceived need for a town center specifically in the Comprehensive Plan.

“If we are serious about this being a town center, people need an opportunity to design something that’s pedestrian-friendly and allows people to walk comfortably from Town Hall to the grocery store and to church,” Webb said. “Right now, all we have is a poorly designed shopping center.”

Publix Super Markets Inc., which owns Town Plaza I at Avenue of the Flowers (the Publix building and the building to the west), has not submitted any renovation plans to the town yet and is still taking suggestions from the town and its residents, according to spokesperson Shannon Patten.

Stroud will report back to the planning board at its March meeting with ways to address the two aging shopping centers with Comprehensive Plan amendments at its 9 a.m. March 15 regular meeting.

Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]



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