TREASURE ISLAND — As part of a continuing effort to encourage hotel and retail development, city officials have presented a plan to create a new zoning district they say will allow developers more flexibility.
The new zoning category — a planned development district — is aimed at attracting more hoteliers by increasing allowable densities while encouraging developers to provide amenities like more public parking, deeded easements and green building.
"It is an opportunity for the development community to bring forth what they want to do and express it," city planner Paula Cohen told city commissioners, who are expected to discuss the zoning addition at a meeting Tuesday.
The zoning district is intended to accommodate well-designed development and encourage flexibility while ensuring compatibility with nearby land uses, Cohen said.
Planned developments, which would be permitted only in certain areas, would give developers "more wiggle room," said Michele Orton, interim community improvement director.
Currently, zoning regulations allow up to 50 units per acre for hotel beachfront areas. That has caused problems for developers who need a higher density to have a successful bottom line.
"The density now isn't high enough to make it worth their while," Orton said, noting that there are few national chains such as Holiday Inn or Hilton in town.
Under the planned development proposal, businesses would gain points for using energy-efficient appliances, green building that meets LEED certification, giving annual transit passes to building occupants and providing outdoor public spaces like a plaza or courtyard.
Points would then translate into higher density, up to 75 units per acre on properties under 3 acres and up to 100 units per acre for larger properties and possibly taller buildings. The City Commission would have to approve the final development plans and right now, according to city ordinances, increases in density levels and heights would have to be approved by voters. However, a bill now being considered in Tallahassee would reverse that requirement.
HCI recently purchased about 7 acres, including Gators Café & Saloon on Kingfish Drive, on the northern end of the island. Company representatives have spoken to city officials about the planned development district and its implications on their future expansion plans.
If passed, the planned development district "would give them many more options to create a resort-type development on the north end," City Manager Reid Silverboard said.
The zoning district is aimed at helping redevelopment along west Gulf Boulevard from 114th Avenue to 119th Avenue, he said.
Clyde Smith, general manager of the Bilmar Beach Resort on Gulf Boulevard, thinks the zoning addition would help revitalize Gulf Boulevard and the downtown area.
"It would improve commerce in the area and also improve the city's image," he said. "We like the mom-and-pop look but one or two higher-end places would be good. It would make it more attractive for downtown development."
Silverboard agrees. "It is almost a chicken and egg thing," he said. "The downtown core development needs a customer base and the current base is not sufficient for people to invest in that area."
Mayor Robert Minning says establishing a planned development district goes along with the 2010 vision survey the city did that says future development should be concentrated on the north end of the island, the beachfront and downtown.
"The rest of the city should stay the way it is," he said. "With this, the city will be well on its way into the 21st and 22nd centuries."