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Back to the drawing board for developer

TEMPLE TERRACE — After a lively debate, the City Council denied a developer's request to modify the city's original plan for a long-awaited downtown redevelopment project.

Vlass Temple Terrace LLC proposed an amended plan earlier this year that included the Towne Park Residences, a complex of apartments on the northern end of the 29-acre project southeast of Bullard Parkway and 56th Street.

But residents have balked ever since, saying they would prefer condos with retail components, not apartments. Many remained vocal Tuesday during the second public hearing on the matter.

"I've always been proud to say I live in Temple Terrace and I want to keep it that way," said 21-year resident Sam Sinardi. "We don't want a suitcase city but we want something that is upscale and will bring good people here."

Carol Dell said she wants to see more retail components in the $160 million project. "I do shop at Sweetbay and the Radio Shack … but I'd also like to be able to shop for other things."

And longtime resident Nancy Bower said she wants the area to become a place where she can meet for coffee with friends. "We want what our vision was," Bower said.

Developers said current economic conditions won't support residents' dreams.

"No bank will finance a condominium project," said Barry Lazarus, the chief executive officer of Inland Diversified Real Estate Trust, a partner in the project charged with building the apartment component.

Michael Vlass, a principal of Vlass Temple Terrace, concurred, noting that his team would be willing to look at converting the dwellings to condos when the market improves.

But that wasn't enough for council members, who ultimately voted 4-1 against the project as proposed.

Said council member David Pogorilich: "While we want this project to be successful, we don't need to be making decisions on promises."

Council member Mary Jane Neale cast the lone vote to approve the modifications.

Officials have now given the Vlass' team 180 days to submit a new plan.

Mayor Joe Affronti called it "a sad night." "I feel the citizens don't have a good grasp, in my opinion, of what this means to our city," the mayor said.

Longtime resident Rod Jurado was concerned that the developer might pull out of the project. As part of its agreement with Vlass, the city conveyed the property to the developer and still owes nearly $21 million for its initial purchase of the land. "The same people who are complaining now will really complain when their taxes go up," Jurado said.

Vlass was selected as the project's master developer in June 2009 after two others backed out of the project.

If the group decides to stay in the game, it also has plans, among others, to construct a community arts center adjacent to the proposed residential site and to create a park along with an upscale food court near the newly opened post office at the south end of the project site.

Joyce McKenzie can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Back to the drawing board for developer 03/22/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 22, 2012 4:30am]
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