DUNEDIN — A new marketing strategy aimed at drawing a buyer for the long-vacant Nielsen Media Research property crossed the first hurdle Thursday as city commissioners preliminarily approved a land-use designation change.
The unanimous vote paves the way for property owner Wells Fargo to finally sell the 23-acre site at 375 Patricia Ave., which has been vacant since 2005.
The property's current land use designation is "industrial limited" and "commercial general." But after eight years without a buyer, the bank pushed for a change to "planned redevelopment mixed-use," which the bank's land-use attorney and planning firm, city staff, and an independent economist say would better fit market conditions.
Under the proposed land use, a developer would be able to build anything from mostly residential to a mixed-use "village" community featuring condos above offices, boutiques, restaurants and other retail shops. The developer would also be required to designate a portion of the offices for an employment center housing one of Pinellas County's high-wage, targeted cluster industries, such as medical technology or research.
The measure will be sent to county officials for approval, while the city continues to work on accompanying zoning changes. Both pieces are expected to come back before Dunedin commissioners early next year.
"I support it. I want to know when the shovels go in the ground," said Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski.
Added Commissioner Ron Barnette: "This is going to be a centerpiece to help redefine Patricia Avenue."
Although Dunedin commissioners are eager to get the former Nielsen site back on city tax rolls, the bank and city staffers acknowledge that getting approval for the land-use and zoning changes required to do so may be difficult.
Pinellas officials have said they oppose losing industrial and office space, which is scarce in Florida's most densely populated county.
However, city and bank officials have proposed a trade-off that would allow an employment center nearby on State Road 580. That roadway, they said, is better-suited than the largely residential Patricia because it is among those being targeted for improved bus service under the Greenlight Pinellas proposal. That would make it an ideal location for employees who traverse the county without cars.
"I think this will do exactly what they've told us to do: Leave the neighborhoods (as) neighborhoods and put the larger things on major corridors," Bujalski said.
WTL+A economist Tom Lavash estimated Dunedin will gain about 1,400 residents by 2020. That means citywide demand for about 400 to 500 new residential units — about 300 to 325 of them at the Patricia site — and 8,000 or more square feet of office space. Because of limited traffic capacity, he said the retail component should be the secondary focus on the Patricia parcel.
"This is a far stronger site for mixed use than industrial limited, from a market perspective," Lavash said. "I think the primary driver here is residential."
The Local Planning Agency, a citizen advisory board that makes land-use recommendations to the City Commission, last month said it unanimously supported the new direction for the Nielsen site. Residents and merchants who spoke at the LPA meeting and Thursday's City Hall meeting also favored the plan.
Following a May meeting with neighbors, the bank decided to abandon its proposal that Beltrees Street be extended through the site, creating a new east-west thoroughfare that would stretch from Keene Road to Edgewater Drive.
One resident Thursday urged the city to consider the road extension anyway to eliminate a dangerous curve that he said has been the site of several car crashes and one death.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.