PINELLAS PARK — One of the long-standing dreams held by many elected officials here is the creation of a quaint village-like area where families can stroll tree-shaded sidewalks while eating ice cream cones and ducking into small specialty shops along the way.
Those dreams took a leap forward in 2004 with the completion of Park Station, a reproduction train station that celebrates the city's history. The building, at 5851 Park Blvd., was also to serve as a beacon to draw people into the "village" area.
Now the City Council has taken another step toward creating that village atmosphere with the recent approval of plans for the United Cottages. The cottages are on about 1.6 acres a block off Park next to the train station. More specifically, they can be found between 57th and 58th streets N along 75th Terrace in the city's redevelopment area.
It's a move that thrills Nancy Hawkins, head of the recently formed homeowners association and owner of seven of the houses. Hawkins fell in love with the area and began buying houses several years ago with the idea of turning them into retail but instead started renting them out. Recently, she said, the neighborhood had started to deteriorate with people "stumbling down the street" from the nearby mission and potholes in the unkempt street. Now, Hawkins said she sees hope.
"It's just going to be adorable," she said. "I love these little places."
The cottages are little dwellings on lots so small that it would be virtually impossible to rebuild on them under zoning rules.
They're a far cry from what the council sees as their future — Katrina-style buildings that can be used for business. Some would even have their owners living in them.
Pinellas Park council member Rick Butler has been one of the main visionaries who saw the potential in the area. He tried for years to get something done but found little interest in the United Cottages community. Then, last year, an officer from the Police Department's Community Redevelopment Policing Unit walked in the door and said something needed to be done. The unit, with five officers, one detective and one lieutenant, is devoted to solving community problems in Pinellas Park's redevelopment area.
Butler said he told the officer, "It would take some new blood because this old boy is burnt out. You've got to get resident buy-in. If you get resident buy-in, the rest will fall into place."
That's what happened. The community met, and change began.
"It's pretty cool," Butler said.
To help the area's property owners get to this goal, the council granted several variances. Among them:
• Reducing setbacks so the buildings can cover more ground.
• Reducing the required living space for single-family homes from 1,000 square feet to 380 square feet. Buildings with retail must have at least 400 square feet.
• Waiving all landscaping requirements, although at least one tree must be planted on each residential lot.
The city is limiting the types of businesses that can be opened there. Permissible shops include bakeries, coffee shops, art galleries, florists, newsstands and gift shops.
Pinellas Park also plans to put the utility lines underground, limit the street to one-way traffic and redesign the street. The city has also taken possession of two lots, which it plans to offer to builders to get the project started, Butler said.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.