In May 2013, the City Commission adopted the North Trail Overlay District, an optional set of specially tailored regulations designed to encourage redevelopment along that stretch of Tamiami Trail.
Since then, just two new projects on the North Trail have chosen to use those regulations. And yet, ahead of a Feb. 5 City Commission meeting, a North Trail stakeholder group advocated strongly for extending the overlay district beyond its May 2018 expiration date.
Jeff Oldenburg owns a commercial property near Tamiami Trail and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, and he’s a member of the North Trail Redevelopment Partnership. That group helped draft the North Trail Overlay District regulations and believes the overlay can still help create high-quality projects in the area.
At the Feb. 5 meeting, Oldenberg contrasted the North Trail with other segments of the city targeted for redevelopment. He highlighted the Rosemary District, which had its maximum density increased to 75 units per acre, and downtown Sarasota, which has used tax-increment financing to facilitate new projects.
By comparison, the North Trail Overlay District isn’t as powerful a redevelopment tool. But because it’s all the North Trail has, stakeholders want to see it preserved.
“What makes the revitalization of the Trail so unique and so difficult is the lack of tools we’ve been given to achieve that goal,” Oldenberg said. “… When someone has nominal tools in the toolbox, every tool becomes exceedingly valuable.”
The city agreed to extend the overlay district until the city adopts a new form-based zoning code currently in development.
But Commissioner Hagen Brody questioned why the city wouldn’t try to improve the overlay regulations to attract more robust redevelopment.
“We are in a great economic time, and we have not seen the revitalization on the North Trail that this community desperately wants,” Brody said. “Keeping that in mind, I would like to re-examine this overlay district to see if there’s anything we could do to make it easier to redevelop these properties, not harder.”
Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch disagreed, calling the overlay district “very successful.” To date, two projects have used the North Trail Overlay District. One is the Oak Ridge Apartments, a former hotel property. The overlay regulations allowed the owner to transition the hotel into apartments without adding more parking. The other is The Strand, a 156-unit condo complex along the Whitaker Bayou in the 1700 block of Tamiami Trail.
“The Strand is a huge project that is going to turn around the North Trail, and it would not have been possible without this,” Ahearn-Koch said.
Jay Patel, chairman of the North Trail Redevelopment Partnership, acknowledged stakeholders would like to see regulations that do even more to incentivize redevelopment in the area. But he was worried that a conversation about improving the North Trail Overlay District could complicate the development climate in the area.
Although he’s optimistic the form-based code will include stronger tools for North Trail property owners, he’s at peace with maintaining the overlay district as-is, hopeful that more redevelopment is on the way.
“Until we get that — until more development tools are added — I think for now, we are OK with this passing,” Patel said of the overlay district extension. “We don’t want this to be bogged down in trying to tweak it.”