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Largo delays decision on plan for downtown

Published Oct. 13, 2005

Downtown residents and others interested in the fate of a controversial redevelopment plan for the core of the city have two more weeks to stew about it. City commissioners Tuesday, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, decided to wait until June 25 to determine the fate of the plan that among other proposals, calls for the displacement of 96 businesses and 407 downtown residences.

The special meeting June 25 will be a public hearing at 6 p.m. at Largo City Hall, 225 First Ave. SW.

After the public hearing, commissioners will decide whether to stick with the original redevelopment plan prepared by Maryland consultants, adopt revisions recommended last week by the city's Planning and Zoning Board or ditch the plan altogether. The original plan for redevelopment targets an area along West Bay Drive from Fourth Street N to Fourth Street S. It extends east from the railroad tracks on West Bay to Highland Avenue on East Bay Drive.

At Tuesday's meeting, Mayor George McGough told commissioners he was not ready to vote on the redevelopment plan.

"I have not seen the modified plan, and I don't think the people understand what the modified plan is," McGough said.

Commissioner Ned Ford agreed.

"I think an intensive study must go into this," Ford said. "I suggest we extend" the time frame.

The redevelopment plan was prepared after a year's study by Land Design Research International. It calls for the widening of West Bay Drive to include a median strip planted with trees, mini-parks at several intersections and the replacement of the one-story buildings along West Bay with two-story buildings with pitched roofs. The plan also calls for a hotel or motel in the downtown area as well as several retirement homes. The small, one-story downtown homes are to be replaced with apartment and condominium buildings.

Last week, after numerous complaints from downtown residents, the Planning and Zoning Board recommended the plan be modified. The board suggested creating a special district within the downtown area 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, residential and industrial areas near the railroad tracks.

At Tuesday's meeting, McGough suggested phasing in the redevelopment project. The first phase, which would last five years, would include the widening of West Bay Drive.

"There seems to be a consensus (to widen West Bay) which is a key and crucial part to getting the downtown plan moving," McGough said.

The mayor also suggested making the redevelopment plan a recommendation rather than a rule.

Also at Tuesday's meeting, commissioners agreed to accept a recommendation of the city's Neighborhood Development Advisory Board to reject a proposal to inspect rental units every three years.

"This was a disaster from the day it was first brought up," McGough said. "It's a bigger disaster now."

During hearings before the Advisory Board, landlords objected to the proposed inspections calling them an infringement on their rights as well as too expensive. City officials had planned to charge up to $50 a inspection.