DUNEDIN — City commissioners have preliminarily approved discounts and incentives aimed at encouraging residential developers to build in the downtown.
At issue is Dunedin's Land Dedication Ordinance, or LDO. Since the mid 1970s, the ordinance has required owners of new residential developments containing five or more units to either include green space for their residents or contribute to a city fund for future parks. The fee is based on the property's value.
But as downtown property values increase, the city has received complaints that developers are discouraged from building there due to high LDO fees and little space for parkland in their projects.
The city staff has proposed that developers in downtown's Community Redevelopment Area receive an automatic 50 percent discount on LDO fees, bringing the rate more in line with fees assessed elsewhere in the city. Developers could earn up to another 35 percent in discounts if they meet certain requirements. Those include adding a mixed-use element such as retail or a restaurant, using high-quality building materials or including open space such as a fountain, plaza or courtyard with benches.
The Community Redevelopment Agency would cover the extra 35 percent in developer incentives, paying the money into the LDO fund over a five-year period.
About 21 acres of vacant land, spread over six or seven parcels, remain downtown. City officials said six citizen advisory groups support the LDO changes, which they expect will break a years-long stalemate on new construction and jobs.
Officials say new projects would finally also generate revenue for more city-owned parking or a garage, plus other downtown improvements the city identified when it successfully applied to Pinellas County for an extension of tax increment financing, which allows any taxes collected on increased property values to be plowed into downtown redevelopment rather than go back into local government coffers. The extension expires in 2033.
"This commission has supported mixed-use," Vice Mayor Julie Scales told her colleagues during their meeting Thursday. "I think this proposal is reasonable and I'm willing to give it a try to get development going downtown."
Added Commissioner Ron Barnette: "It's a win-win-win."
A half-dozen residents and downtown merchants took to the lectern to speak in favor of the LDO changes.
"While I agree Dunedin is unique and special," said developer Joe Kokolakis, high fees have "effectively killed development downtown."
However, former Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth, a strong advocate for green space, called the automatic discount unfair because all residents have the same impact on parks no matter where they live in the city.
He also believes developers outside downtown will eventually ask and be granted similar discounts for "doing absolutely nothing" but developing their property.
"I think your approach should be to instead give the 50 percent discount only after you've got a commitment for (things like improved architecture or public space) so that discount is earned," Hackworth said.
Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski acknowledged that she was slightly hesitant about the LDO changes because she felt staff didn't sufficiently explain why the automatic discount is 50 percent versus some other number.
But noting the strong staff and advisory board support, she said the discount meets "the spirit" of the LDO by generating money for parks: "I don't want to just sit around and wait to see if things happen. I want to be proactive."
Commissioners approved the changes 5-0 Thursday. A second public hearing and final vote is set for March 6.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.