TREASURE ISLAND — Despite protests by some residents, the City Commission has decided to give voters the chance to decide whether there can be increases in height and density for some Gulf Boulevard development.
The commission voted last week to put proposed changes to its land use regulations and comprehensive plan to a vote in November.
In 2002, Treasure Island voters made it clear that all future increases in building height and density must be approved in a referendum vote.
The changes, if approved, would establish a planned development zoning district on the east and west side of Gulf Boulevard north of 127th Avenue and on the west side of Gulf Boulevard between 104th and 119th Avenues.
New structures in the district could take advantage of higher density and height in order to encourage redevelopment, city officials said.
The northern end of Gulf Boulevard, which would be included in the new zoning district, is the "gateway to the city," Community Improvement Director Paula Cohen said, and the proposed zoning changes would benefit redevelopment.
Properties on the west side of Gulf Boulevard between 104th and 119th have the greatest concentration of transient lodging in the city.
If approved by voters, density could increase from 50 to 75 units per acre in resort facilities high zoning and up to 60 units per acre in commercial general zones from the current 22 units.
The changes would also mean a possible increase in height from five stories to seven.
State and local agencies reviewed the proposed changes and found the suggested increases in density would not present significant problems related to water and air pollution, evacuation, sanitation, sewer and traffic.
"It's the voters decision," said Mayor Robert Minning, who plans to vote for the issue in November. "We are doing it because we are a 50-plus-year-old city in need of upgrades. With the (Federal Emergency Management Agency) restrictions we have now, if the hotels or condos needed to rebuild, they could not be built to current densities."
But some residents don't want the city to open the door to possible density and height increases.
"This plan is illegal because it doesn't comply with state statutes," said Shelley Eckert, a Key Capri condo owner. "The way they are setting this up, a person could go in and ask for a planned development district in places like Sunset Beach or Paradise Island."
Ella Solomons, a Sunset Beach resident, told commissioners that the assertion that increased density won't make for more traffic congestion "is ludicrous. One doesn't need a study to see the congestion that already exists during tourist season and is starting to become a problem year round."
She said the zoning changes, if approved, "would make Treasure Island look like every other overdeveloped town in Florida."
Former planning and zoning board member Heidi Horak said any increases in density "conflicts with the statewide policy of strategic retreat from our coastal barrier islands."
Some of the "loudest voices of protest" seem to be from residents of Key Capri Condominiums near Johns Pass, Minning said.
"That is a seven-story building, so I don't understand why they can have seven stories and the rest of the city can't," he said.
Eckert said Key Capri was built in the 1970s when the island's population was much less than today.
Minning said he would support the voters' decision.
"Whatever the vote, I will be happy to endorse it," he said.