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Decision day arrives for downtown plan

A plan to redevelop the core of the city gets the attention of the City Commission today. The commission, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, is to decide what to do with the downtown redevelopment plan. Last week the city's Planning and Zoning Board approved the plan, but recommended changes.

City Clerk Henry Schubert said some residents who have expressed an interest in downtown redevelopment have been invited to address the commission at the meeting today.

Other people may be allowed to speak if the commission agrees to waive the rules and allow statements from the public. The meeting is not a public hearing.

If the commission accepts the plan, a public hearing has been scheduled tentatively for July 16, Schubert said.

The plan has outraged many downtown residents who say they fear the city either will condemn their property to make way for development or will cause the value of their property to increase so dramatically they no longer will be able to pay their taxes.

City Manager Stephen Bonczek, who supports the plan, said he will suggest that commissioners consider phasing in redevelopment in five-year stages.

Bonczek said the first stage could include the widening of West Bay Drive.

"I think almost everybody is for that," Bonczek said.

Other parts of the plan call for mini-parks at several downtown intersections, more attractive storefronts along West Bay Drive, and the replacement of small, single-family residences with two- and three-story apartment buildings and condominiums.

If the plan is approved as presented by the Maryland firm of Land Design Research International, 96 downtown businesses and 407 downtown residences would be displaced.

Last week, however, the city's Planning and Zoning Board suggested creating within the designated downtown area a special district that would not be subject to land-use changes. Homes in the district could not be condemned to make way for business or multifamily buildings.

The special district would encompass residential neighborhoods north of Second Avenue N and south of Second Avenue S, and commercial and industrial areas west of the railroad tracks that cross West Bay Drive.

At the meeting today, commissioners can accept the board's amended version of the plan, accept the plan as originally designed, reject the plan or postpone a decision.

The City Commission, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, will meet today at 5:30 p.m. at Largo City Hall, 225 First Ave. SW.