TREASURE ISLAND — Twelve years after residents said they favored creating a small-town atmosphere, officials are now asking whether they want tourism to continue to be an important part of the city's future.
"It's very, very important that the commission has a pulse feel from residents as to what they look forward to as a city. We are 55 years old and a lot of our infrastructure is of that vintage. We need input so we can direct the future of the city," said Mayor Bob Minning.
A 15-question visioning questionnaire mailed to residents this week will tell Minning and other city officials a lot about what their residents want Treasure Island to become in the next 20 years.
Responses will be tabulated by St. Petersburg College's Collaborative Labs and used at a starting point for discussion during three public visioning workshops to be held at the Community Center on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon and on Nov. 3 and Nov. 30 from 6 to 9 p.m.
During the last visioning process in 1998, residents decided they wanted to maintain a small-town atmosphere and stressed the need for better traffic controls, beautification and upscale restaurants.
The city's downtown redevelopment plan and a still-unfinished plan to build a beach trail were among the results of that visioning.
Former Mayor Mary Maloof, chairman of the city's current Vision Steering Committee, hopes that most residents will respond to the survey and come to the visioning meetings.
"We need to know where our citizens want the city to spend their tax dollars," Maloof said. "This is a whole new world with problems we never thought we would be facing back in 1998."
One of the biggest issues, she said, is the decline in property values and tax revenues that could limit the city's ability to provide services in the future.
Tourism, long the mainstay of the city's economy, saved each resident $389 in city property taxes in 2008, Maloof stressed.
The mail survey focuses many of its questions on tourism, asking residents whether they support the development of an "upscale resort" in the city, whether they want new restaurants, retail stores, or entertainment venues, and, perhaps most importantly, whether they would support "modest increases in height and density" in defined areas of the city.
"We need to know if the community would allow an increase in height and density for tourism. There is no way hotels can build without an increase," Maloof said.
Reopening debate about building height and density could be controversial.
Past attempts by city officials to change the city's development rules led to a major political and legal battle that ended in rescinding the changes.
The city also wants to know if the community would approve moving the city municipal complex on 108th Avenue so that the waterfront property could be sold to developers.
Other questions related to how to pay for putting utilities underground along Gulf Boulevard or in neighborhoods and developing thematic design criteria for future development.
Online versions of the survey indicate residents may be ready to rethink the building height debate.
As of the most recent tally, 61 percent of nearly 300 respondents said they favor an upscale resort and 56 percent favor increasing building heights in some areas of the city.
One respondent said increasing building height is "a must if you want TI to grow."
Others, however, cautioned against allowing the city to "turn into anything resembling Sand Key" and its high-rise condominiums.
On some of the other questions, 45 percent favor selling the waterfront municipal complex to developers, while there was no clear consensus on paying for putting utilities underground.