LARGO — Changes are in store for the Largo Mall area.
First, mall officials are thinking about building a larger, more prominently located movie theater to replace its Regal Cinema 8, an older theater tucked into a back corner of the mall.
Second, the city of Largo is paving the way for denser development around the mall. That has made some residents of the surrounding neighborhoods a bit nervous about what to expect.
Both subjects came up Tuesday night at a Largo City Commission meeting. Elected officials wanted to make sure that the city's actions would not hurt or delay any of Largo Mall's future plans. Commissioners were told it wouldn't be a problem.
"They're looking at making some changes to their theaters," said Robert Klute, Largo's assistant community development director. "It would involve some additional square footage."
Largo Mall officials have been watching Westfield Countryside mall have success with its Cobb Countryside 12 cineplex, which opened in 2011 on the second floor of a 70,000-square-foot addition to that mall. It was Pinellas County's first new cineplex in a decade.
There's also the fact that Largo's only other movie theater, the aging AMC Tri-City 8 at U.S. 19 and East Bay Drive, closed last month. That could affect Largo Mall's plans.
"One of the things they've discussed is closing the theaters where they currently are, and to be more marketable, building an extra two floors above the Bealls store," Klute told Largo commissioners. "It would allow them to configure a better, more contemporary space that meets the current market for theaters."
The mall's Bealls department store is closer to Ulmerton Road and is generally more visible than the existing theater.
Largo Mall officials would not confirm any of this. The mall is owned by Houston-based Weingarten Realty, a real estate investment trust that owns hundreds of shopping centers throughout the southern United States.
Such companies are generally tight-lipped about their plans until they're ready to take action. The mall has not submitted a formal proposal to the city. Constructing a three-story building there would require some flexibility with Largo's height restrictions, according to city officials.
Klute has assured Largo's Planning Board that the mall has enough parking to handle a bigger movie theater.
Largo commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of a "Special Area Plan" that lays out a vision for the Largo Mall area, including all four corners of the intersection of Ulmerton Road and Seminole Boulevard.
The plan is intended to be a catalyst for economic development. It must also be approved by the Pinellas County Commission.
There are no zoning changes in the plan. Any property that's zoned for residential or commercial use is still zoned for that.
However, the plan will allow future developments to have more density than what's currently allowed — if developers follow the city's new guidelines for the Largo Mall area.
For example, a mixed-use development on land that's zoned as "commercial general" would normally be allowed 24 condos or apartments per acre. If the developer took steps such as adding pedestrian and bicycle trails, such a development could be allowed to have 30 dwelling units per acre instead — a 25 percent increase.
At a meeting of the Planning Board last month, Largo resident Ron Roberts spoke up for dozens of mobile home residents on nearby Robin Lane. They own the parcels where their mobile homes are located, but they fear that a developer could seize their property and evict them.
"I need to know what's coming down the road, along with 30 other families in there," he said.
Klute assured him that nothing in Largo's new rules would allow anyone to seize property.
To further reassure neighbors, in the future Largo plans to follow the model it used when it recently approved a developer's plan to build 260 apartments at the site of the Briarwood Travel Villas, an RV park near Largo Mall.
After Briarwood's neighbors complained, Largo required additional setbacks and buffer zones between the new apartment complex and adjoining properties. It also required the complex's tallest buildings to be located farthest away from the neighbors.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151.