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Treasure Island ballot questions could change downtown

TREASURE ISLAND — Downtown property owner Gail Byrne is tired of patching up 50-year-old buildings, waiting months to find tenants and then collecting only minimal rents.

She says the only hope in turning around Treasure Island's core downtown district bordered by 108th Avenue and 106th Avenue from the Causeway to Gulf Boulevard is a referendum that would change the area's zoning to mixed use.

Of the five referendum questions facing voters March 12, four deal with redeveloping the city's downtown in hopes that developers will be attracted to the area.

"This lays a platform for someone to come in and develop down the road," said Byrne, a semiretired Realtor who owns about half a dozen properties including the Clock Tower Restaurant and the Central Station Sports Bar.

Two of the referendum questions would call from an increase in residential density downtown, which currently isn't allowed, by providing mixed use zoning with up to 24 residential units per acre. It would also allow 60 tourist units or hotel/motel rooms per acre.

Residential development would have to be part of retail or office use. For example, a shop or office could be located on the street level of a building with apartments above.

Even if the proposals are approved, Byrne, a resident since 1985, doesn't see developers snatching up property to make changes anytime soon.

"With the cost of construction and parking issues and the economy, I don't see it happening anytime soon," she said. Still, she thinks eventually a developer or two might been able to turn the area into an upscale shopping destination like St. Armands Circle in Sarasota.

Treasure Island officials, who have been working on redevelopment plans for eight years, believe the changes are the city's best hope of revitalizing the 11 acres that make up its downtown core.

Two other referendum questions are aimed at improving development along the east side of Gulf Boulevard by providing mixed use zoning similar to the downtown core district. The proposals would allow the current density of 22 units per acre for hotel/motel rooms to increase to a maximum of 60 hotel/motel rooms per acre from 103rd Avenue to 106th Avenue and from 108th Avenue to 112th Avenue. Residential units would be allowed for the first time along east Gulf Boulevard, up to 15 residential units per acre.

"We've had developers say they can't develop under the current rules," said Earl Pfeiffer, a former planning and zoning board member.

Commissioner Julian Fant said the referendum questions provide residents with "an excellent opportunity to improve the city and attract new restaurants and businesses."

Some have questioned whether the zoning changes would impact parking downtown by squeezing the already limited spaces. But Mayor Robert Minning said developers would take into consideration parking needs with their development plans, which would have to be approved by the city.

"All we are doing is setting the stage," he said. "We aren't telling developers they must put up a parking structure but it is their responsibility for making sure parking challenges are met."

The fifth referendum question on the ballot would increase building height by 2 feet to compensate for buildings that must be raised on the bottom by 2 feet because of FEMA flood requirements.

"It is a simple concept," said Minning, who hasn't heard any opposition to the proposal.

Making the changes is a no-brainer for Byrne.

"Why would anyone not want this?" she asked. If approved, the changes will one day make a downtown she now views as an eyesore into an attractive asset.

Treasure Island ballot questions could change downtown 03/02/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 1, 2013 7:37pm]
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