ZEPHYRHILLS — City officials have been developing a vision for a thriving community, and on Monday evening, the council took the first step toward bringing those dreams to life.
The council gave its initial blessing to an ordinance that would nearly double the size of the Community Redevelopment Area, the specially targeted area for revitalization efforts. Council members also embraced a proposed Community Redevelopment Plan that provides a list of improvements for that targeted area.
The proposed plan includes creating more parking in downtown, beautifying the area, making the roads more user-friendly through design and street signs, creating more recreational facilities, such as expanding the tennis courts at Zephyr Park; creating greater tourism opportunities like hike and bike trails; and re-establishing Zephyrhills Spring Water as a destination and attraction by partnering with the water company.
"It looks like Disney World, so I'm thrilled," council president Kent Compton said after he and the rest of the council members, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, accepted the plan.
The council later voted unanimously (with council member Jodi Wilkeson absent) to give initial approval to both ordinances. The measures will return for a final vote May 14.
Assistant city planner RJ Keetch said city and business leaders see the CRA and downtown development "as part of an overall economic development strategy and vision" and pointed to a recent Economic Development Task Force report stating its economic vision:
"The community of Zephyrhills will have a viable, renewable economic engine, which can support the needs and enhance the lifestyles of those living and working in the community. The task force envisions Zephyrhills as a model city that is a Mecca for healthy living and recreation, is a place with strong connected community that is showcased in a revitalized downtown, and is a place with a globally competitive business climate."
The city originally created its redevelopment area in 1998 in Zephyrhills' downtown core. The designation sets aside a portion of the property taxes for redevelopment efforts in that area. Previous projects have included purchasing land to expand Zephyr Park and providing grants to help property owners fix up their buildings.
The existing redevelopment area covers 138 acres.
Officials are looking to add four more subdistricts totaling 119 acres near Hercules Park, the historic district, Shepard Park Community and Lake Zephyr Park Community. Expanding the area will bring more money into the redevelopment fund and gives the city the leverage to clean up areas of blight, Keetch said.
"The whole idea is that it creates more taxable value, more valuable properties for owners and more funding for the city's CRA," he said. "It's a win-win."
While some of the ideas are way down the road, Keetch and other leaders see some key pieces, like once again implementing grants for property owners within the district to fix facades and cleaning up zoning to add more mixed-use parcels, as must-dos in the near future. The most important suggestion, though, is creating a CRA "Champion," which is something the task force also recommended.
"I think having one person responsible and I think accountable, definitely helps to forward the plan," Keetch said.
"That a key in order to make it successful."