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Largo grants initial approval to plan allowing tall buildings downtown

LARGO — Despite opposition from a number of Largo residents, city leaders last week granted initial approval of a plan that would allow bigger, taller buildings in parts of downtown.

Vice Mayor Gigi Arntzen and four other commissioners who supported the West Bay Drive Community Redevelopment District Plan said a new plan was needed to entice developers and to manage future growth.

"To not have a plan is the worst that we could do for the future of this city," Arntzen said.

Commissioner Robert Murray voted against the plan, saying it included many good ideas, but he had concerns about the potential for over-development in parts of the district. Commissioner Mary Gray Black was absent.

Six residents spoke against the plan at Tuesday's city meeting, saying big buildings, more people and increased traffic would ruin their small city way of life.

Two speakers, who live just outside the redevelopment district, led a petition drive that garnered more than 175 signatures from Largo residents who opposed increased density and new land use classifications in the West Bay Drive area.

"We don't want this done to our city," said Carol Stupp, who helped spearhead the petition drive with resident Robert Bullard.

One resident, former Commissioner Marty Shelby, and one business owner, Belleair Bluffs Mayor Chris Arbutine, spoke in favor of the plan.

Several commissioners said some residents seemed misinformed.

"A lot of the people that spoke at the meeting said things that are not the case," Commissioner Woody Brown said Thursday.

Brown, who lives and works in the district, said the new plan, which updates a 1997 plan, might increase densities in parts of the district. But it has more protections for residents who live in single-family homes than the current plan.

Now, one- and two-story shops and homes dominate the district. The new plan would allow buildings with up to 30 units per acre and up to six stories in mixed-use areas. It would let developers with projects that meet several criteria seek bonuses to build 50 units per acre or eight stories in those areas.

The plan still requires review. It will likely return to the City Commission for a final vote around March, said assistant community development director Robert Klute.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Largo grants initial approval to plan allowing tall buildings downtown 07/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 25, 2009 5:30am]

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