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At neighbors' urging, Largo won't extend downtown redevelopment

People who own homes and businesses near Highland Avenue and East Bay Drive won their crusade to stay out of the city's latest plan to redevelop Bay Drive in downtown.

Last week, city commissioners voted unanimously against expanding the boundaries of the West Bay Drive redevelopment plan. The area of contention: 18.6 acres north of East Bay Drive from Fourth Street NE to Highland Avenue.

For two months, about a dozen people in and near the area voiced their concerns at city planning board meetings. Tuesday, several of them returned to City Hall to tell city leaders that building colossal structures in their neighborhood would increase traffic and ruin their peaceful way of life.

"We like the small-town feel," said neighbor Iris Merryweather. "This is where we choose to live."

"It sounds like a good thing as long as it's over on West Bay Drive, where it belongs," said another neighbor, Ross Jahren said.

Commissioner Woody Brown noted that many who lived in the area had been there a long time and didn't seem to have plans to sell.

"If we don't foresee development, why include it in the plan?" he asked.

Mayor Pat Gerard said there was plenty of work to do in the core of downtown.

After voting to exclude the controversial section, commissioners discussed the new plan, which would allow buildings up to eight stories in parts of downtown.

The boundaries of the redevelopment district generally run from west of the Pinellas Trail to Fourth Street NE, and span several blocks north and south of West Bay Drive.

Several business leaders urged city leaders to pass the plan soon.

"We need to see this go forward," said Largo/Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce President Tom Morrissette. "We have to put the message out that we're ready to go."

Marty Shelby, a former Largo commissioner who lives just west of the redevelopment area, urged restraint. City leaders should take their time with the new plan to protect property owners who live outside the district, he said.

Commissioners questioned the clarity of some sections of the plan and asked the staff for revisions before their initial approval July 21.

At neighbors' urging, Largo won't extend downtown redevelopment 06/20/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 20, 2009 1:50pm]

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