TARPON SPRINGS — After four years of meetings and public discussions, the City Commission unanimously approved new plans Tuesday that will guide future development at the Sponge Docks and in downtown.
"It gives us a clear vision of where we'd like to go," said Commissioner Robin Saenger. "Step by step, we are more clearly defining our city. It gives us a focus and a picture of what we are looking for. People are still moving to Florida, and we will have a more vibrant city core and walkable community."
The so-called Special Area Plan approved Tuesday focuses on 248 acres that encompass downtown and the Sponge Docks area. Infill development and higher densities allowed under the plan will encourage construction of more places in the downtown area to live and work.
The plan also calls for a better connection between the Sponge Docks and downtown.
Under the plan, the Sponge Docks area will maintain the integrity and authenticity of a working waterfront, but also recognize the connection to and importance of tourism, city documents stated. A public space for festivals, markets and other events supporting the waterfront will be created. The Greek village character of the docks will be preserved and enhanced.
The second plan approved Tuesday, known as the SmartCode, will employ new land use designations to implement the changes called for in the Special Area Plan. The SmartCode is designed to reduce urban sprawl by allowing mixed uses in the same area so people can live, work, shop and play without leaving their neighborhood.
The SmartCode guides neighborhood development by regulating lot sizes, building heights, parking lots and road networks to create self-contained, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods.
"We hope it sparks the kind of development that we are looking for, which is a live/work opportunity in our downtown, which has proven to be successful," said Joseph A. DiPasqua, the city's Development Services director.
"Those are the things that you are looking for — that livable, walkable downtown — and we hope our property owners as well as those from outside the city want to partner up with property owners and take advantage of the development opportunities that the SmartCode brings," he said.
Commissioner Chris Alahouzos was pleased with the plans' passage as well.
"It's a great concept for the city, with a walkable community, more green space and higher density," Alahouzos said.
"I'm very appreciative to everyone who worked on it — not only the staff, but the groups, Planning and Zoning Board, the Historical Preservation Board and the focus group. I'm very appreciative, because it was a lot of hours involved."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at dalee@sptimes or (727) 445-4174