TAMPA — South Tampa neighborhoods are marshaling their residents against the proposed SoHo Flats apartments, with some organizers even looking into chartering a bus to take opponents to Thursday night's City Council hearing.
As proposed, SoHo Flats includes 212 apartments, a 518-space garage and 15,000 square feet of restaurants, shops and offices.
The project site covers a little less than 3 acres and would replace a largely vacant strip center on S Howard Avenue, north of W Morrison Avenue. The site once was home to Xtreme Total Health & Fitness, owned by Joe Redner, but also includes a laundry equipment supply company.
The key issue is traffic, the developer and residents say.
"It's a big deal, and it will affect a lot of people," said Anneliese Meier, vice president for Parkland Estates Civic Association.
Already, residents note, Post Properties is building Post SoHo Square, with 231 apartments and retail, near Swann Avenue to the north. On the south is the 137-room Epicurean Hotel, scheduled to open late this year across from Bern's Steak House.
"Now, we're talking right between the two, here's another development," said Laura Barber, who has distributed fliers to her neighbors in New Suburb Beautiful in advance of the 6 p.m. hearing. "It just seems like it's a little out of control. ... I don't see how these roads can handle it."
Anthony Everett, Central Florida partner for project applicant Pollack Shores Real Estate Group, said he is sympathetic. He grew up in Tampa, and has friends in those neighborhoods and a sister who lives five blocks from S Howard.
"I've tried to design this project in a responsible manner that minimizes traffic impacts on Howard," he said.
SoHo Flats would generate an estimated 2,900 vehicle trips per day, Everett said. That's about 1,300 more than what would be generated if the previous businesses were still operating there.
Project plans try to direct some of that traffic away from Howard, and Everett would expect a little less than half of the trips to be generated in the morning and a little more than half in the evening.
Everett also notes that the garage would have 518 spaces, while city code requires 500. That should create excess parking capacity that the public could use and shouldn't exacerbate the area's parking crunch.
But if this project is defeated, something worse could come along, Everett said. In that case, he said, the Miami-based owners of the company would likely look to maximize the return on their investment.
The site has a commercial zoning that would allow the development of other uses, including a large shopping center or fast-food restaurant, which could generate much more traffic than the apartment complex, he said.
Some of those uses could generate as much as 10,000 trips a day, he estimated, many of them at lunch or at night, when S Howard is congested.
Everett said he has had more than 30 meetings with residents and neighborhood groups about the project, which he said he has tried to ensure would be well thought-out and create the "least impact of anything that could go on the site."
Still, skepticism remains, and there are rumblings that residents are organizing for a big turnout.
That would not surprise Council member Harry Cohen, who represents South Tampa.
"Those are very active neighborhood associations," he said.