TEMPLE TERRACE — Most residents who spoke up at a special City Council meeting last month struck a common chord: the developers' plan for residences in the $160 million downtown Temple Terrace project goes against the city's original vision.
Speaker after speaker decried the change from having retail shops on the ground floor of multifamily residence buildings, which they hoped would be condominiums. Developers instead proposed three four-story, wood-frame buildings of apartment units — not condos — and no first-floor retail shops.
Round two of the public discussion is set for Tuesday evening at the Omar K. Lightfoot Center, which was packed with vocal residents during the Feb. 16 meeting. Council members aren't set to vote on the matter next week; they will hear the results of discussions between city planners and the developers trying to resolve differences.
The city's community development director, Charles W. Stephenson, objected to the plans from the main developer, Vlass Temple Terrace LLC and apartment builder Inland Atlantic Development. The project "lacks the vision and expectations of the original concept,'' he said.
"You feel like it's a bait and switch,'' resident Patrick Garrett told the Tampa Bay Times this week. The Temple Terrace native and businessman, who spoke out at the last meeting, said the City Council and Vlass had agreed on a retail-residential mixed-use plan three years ago.
Though the original plan did not specify the type of residences, most residents who spoke clearly preferred condominiums. Several suggested that because renters lack a sense of ownership, they would be less likely to take care of the property. Some predicted the apartments could eventually become government-subsized, or Section 8, housing for low-income residents.
Michael Vlass, of Vlass Temple Terrace, dismissed that idea, noting the expense the developer is setting aside for trees.
"We are not thinking of Section 8,'' he told the crowd. "You think I'd spend $37,000 on two trees for Section 8 housing?''
The proposed Towne Park apartments would anchor the northeast corner of the development, which runs along 56th Street from Bullard Parkway to the Hillsborough River. The rest of the project would include a cultural arts center, the city library, other retail stores and restaurants. A Sweetbay Supermarket centers the complex.
Vlass and Barry Lazarus of Inland told the council that they had to build apartment buildings because the condominium market remains depressed. They also said that they couldn't get financing for mixed-use, residential-retail buildings because lenders view them as risky investments.
"I'd like to see the list of those that turned them down,'' resident Tom Veit said this week. Veit, also a lifelong Temple Terrace resident, spoke out at the last meeting, too.
He complained that the planned one- and two-bedroom apartments look too small. "It really looks like student housing.''
Plus, building the apartments of wood, he said, would make it more difficult to later convert them to condominiums, a possibility that's been mentioned.
"The whole idea was to create an environment with a more family, more residential atmosphere,'' Veit says. "That's been thrown away.''
If the council needs to wait until the condominium market improves, then it should, Veit said. "Temple Terrace already has a large abundance of apartments.''
Other contentious issues that may be raised Tuesday include: a proposed fence around the apartment buildings; a lack of sufficient parking; and the proposal to reroute a service road from behind the apartments, having trucks instead drive through the center of the development.
Philip Morgan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.