DUNEDIN — Groans, angry outbursts and a plethora of questions punctuated a neighborhood meeting aimed at gauging public support for a proposed zoning change at the former Nielsen Media Research property.
Representatives for Wells Fargo, which owns the 25-acre site at 375 Patricia Ave., met with neighbors for two hours Monday evening to float an idea they say would finally help attract a buyer after eight years.
Neighbors had mixed reactions to the bank's desire to change the property's light-industrial land designation to a category that would accommodate anything from mostly residential to a mixed-use "village" community featuring townhomes above offices, boutiques, restaurants and other retail shops.
However, a proposal that Beltrees Street be extended through the site for vehicular traffic — or, at the minimum pedestrians, bicyclists and golf carts — elicited such a visceral reaction from a few opponents that a bank representative had to step in.
"We are not going to be rude," Joel Tew, a land-use attorney hired by Wells Fargo, said to applause from most of the roughly 150 residents gathered at Dunedin Highland Middle School. He later added: "At the end of the day, it isn't our decision and we'll have to do what we're told" by the city.
Although the most vocal opinion in the room appeared to be a belief that extending Beltrees from Keene Road to Edgewater Drive would mean overwhelming traffic and lowered property values, organizers said a subsequent vote by a show of hands indicated the audience was about evenly split on the proposal.
"We can make the project work either way," Tew said.
Heidt Design president B. Patrick Gassaway went through a slide show of possible looks and uses, and had the audience fill out corresponding "yes" or "no" boxes on a paper packet.
Among their questions: Why not use the site for a shopping plaza or City Hall offices? How do you know the site won't continue to sit empty? And won't too much development on the Nielsen site discourage redevelopment efforts elsewhere in the city?
Tew acknowledged that he couldn't guarantee the proposed plan's success. But, he said, the goal is to breathe life into the neighborhood by creating a community appealing to young professionals, seniors, and families with children.
"You can have your own little town center there, is the whole idea," Tew said.
After the meeting, opinions remained mixed.
Renee Somers, 61, of Scotsdale Villas III said she's not opposed to limited mixed-use development on the site. But she fears extending Beltrees would transform the serene road where she walks after work.
"I'd like to see something done with the property," she said, "but, because of where I live, I'm against the connection. I think it would change the neighborhood."
Conversely, Pete Culickio, 79, of Castlemay Circle said he wouldn't mind the Beltrees connection, as it would relieve traffic on Scotsdale. He'd like to see a retail and restaurant district, similar to downtown, on the site.
"They've got to do something with it. They can't leave it as it is," he said.
Joe Chiarella said he wants to hear more specifics from designers and city officials before forming an opinion.
"This was just a broad overview of what could be," said Chiarella, 75, who lives in the Scotsdale Cluster Condos subdivision. "Whatever goes in has to be profitable for Dunedin but also shouldn't have a negative impact on the neighborhoods."
The bank wants input from residents and city leaders before submitting an application to change the zoning. Using Monday night's feedback, Tew said designers expect to bring the city a few preliminary layout examples within 60 or so days. Officials will also do a comparison of the potential tax revenue the new proposal might generate versus the former Nielsen business.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153.