Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Business

Bank seeks zoning change to lure buyer for Dunedin's Nielsen site

DUNEDIN — Eight years after Nielsen Media Research left Dunedin, the bank that owns its former property on Patricia Avenue wants a zoning and land use change in hopes of attracting a buyer.

The city and county have worked since 2005 to attract a major light-industrial business for the 23-acre property, hoping to replace jobs lost when Nielsen moved to Oldsmar.

Now Wells Fargo wants zoning and land-use changes from light industrial/office to residential/commercial. The bank will present its request to the City Commission during an April 23 public workshop.

City staff support the change, which City Manager Rob DiSpirito said would allow projects ranging from mostly townhomes to a mixed-use development similar to the Westchase community in Tampa. However, there's no specific plan yet.

Bank representatives want to see how receptive city commissioners are to the idea before they take the property off the market, powwow with neighbors, seek Pinellas County approval of the land use change and develop a new marketing strategy.

Joel Tew, a Pasco County land-use attorney who city officials say is assisting Wells Fargo, did not respond to an email and phone messages seeking comment.

"We have struggled for eight years now trying to find a tenant that would fit that (light industrial/office) land use and zoning . . . and it doesn't seem like there's anything on the horizon, just because of industrial lands available in the county closer to transportation hubs than we are," said Greg Rice, Dunedin's planning and development director.

"Staff believes that the option of going to a mixed-use combination of residential, office and retail may very well be the best and highest use of the property, with regard to what Dunedin is all about — which is certainly more of a residential community."

Immediately after Nielsen, known for its TV ratings service, announced in 2005 that it was moving, officials began working to attract high-wage companies in industries like financial services, life sciences and health, alternative energy or information technology — sectors that don't necessarily rely on close proximity to airports or major highways.

Pinellas Economic Development director Mike Meidel understands Dunedin's struggle, but said he would prefer to see a large corporation on the property that sells products or services outside of Pinellas.

"If you go all shopping center and residential," Meidel said, "we've lost out on the opportunity to bring in new money and create jobs."

Meidel said there's demand for rentals among empty nesters, retirees, recent college graduates not ready for home ownership and people who have lost their homes to foreclosure. He said a recent University of Florida study showed 2,000 people moved to Pinellas in 2010 and 2011.

"So the need is out there, but the question is how much," Meidel said. "We're obviously building more than 2,000 units countywide. We don't want to get into an overbuilt situation."

With retail buildings leasing for as high as $24 per square foot versus $6 for industrial land, Meidel added, it's understandable that Wells Fargo would want to switch zoning. However, he said he'd rather see Dunedin make the change as part of an incentive agreement for an actual developer, who could buy the property at low cost and get the added value of building and adding jobs.

Rice said Dunedin is concerned about high-wage jobs too. He hopes the city could get a development agreement similar to a proposal in Safety Harbor that would require the developer of a large mixed-use office/retail space to designate a portion of the offices for one of Pinellas' high-wage, targeted cluster industries, such as aviation or medical technology.

Though high-wage businesses bring in more jobs, Dunedin Economic Development director Bob Ironsmith said mixed-used projects tend to bring in more tax revenue for cities.

Rather than strictly rentals, Rice said a project that mixes apartments, home ownership, office and retail — ultimately creating a "village" feel — would best match the Patricia Avenue neighborhood's architecture, traffic patterns and residential character.

If the commission likes what it hears April 23, Wells Fargo would meet with neighbors.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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