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Neighbors are nervous about zoing in Maximo

(ran South, East editions)

There's no questioning Beth Wardrum's commitment to her neighborhood. The president of the Broadwater Civic Association and her husband, Earl, are building a $400,000 dream home in this small neighborhood near the Sunshine Skyway between 34th Street S and the water.

"We looked all over, and we decided we love this area and we wanted to stay here," she said.

Like many of their neighbors, the Wardrums grew attached to the peace, the nearby water and the friendliness of neighbors.

That is why residents of Broadwater and Maximo Moorings neighborhoods and Patriot Square condominiums cast wary glances at commercial neighbors on 34th Street S. What happens on this major commercial corridor affects them.

Two city staff members faced a wall of skepticism and a barrage of questions last week when they met with more than 30 residents from those neighborhoods to explain a plan to rezone the area of U.S. 19 (34th Street) between 42nd and 54th avenues S. The plan is intended to bring economic prosperity.

The city's development services department is suggesting a change to the commercial parkway zoning codes to allow light industrial uses as a special exception. That change would allow the kind of businesses that have created a boom market in the Gateway and Carillon areas to locate in other areas of the city, said Steven Wolochowicz, director of development services for the city.

Businesses such as Jabil Circuit Co. and Danka Industries are clean industries that employ highly skilled blue-collar and professional workers. Those employees would probably own homes and buy from nearby businesses.

"The goal here is to try to create an environment for opportunity. We need to be a little more aggressive," Wolochowicz said.

Changing the city's zoning code will be discussed at the next meeting of the city's Planning Commission, at 4 p.m. Nov. 13 at City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N. If planners vote for it, the City Council would take up the matter.

Rezoning Maximo Plaza, 4275-4593 34th St. S, from residential-office-retail parkway zoning to commercial parkway zoning could bring economic rebirth, Wolochowicz said. In the Maximo area, city staff discussed rezoning 42nd to 54th avenues S between 34th and 37th streets into commercial parkway zoning. Residents want economic growth, but they fear the city's plan might set them up as a zone for adult businesses and put their neighborhoods on a downward spiral.

Still, they think something needs to be done. For years, residents have complained about the deterioration of the Maximo Plaza shopping center. Tenants have moved in and moved out. As it declined, the 30-year-old complex became a blight. Then in the past year, two adult businesses opened shop on 34th Street S. Residents also fear the implications of a city staff report indicating that under the most restrictive zoning regulations for adult businesses, the 34th Street S area, with its deep commercial setbacks, could accommodate up to as many as 30 adult businesses.

Making the area attractive to new businesses is the best insulation against decline, Wolochowicz said.

"One sure way to get adult uses into an area is to have desperate landlords," he told the group.

At the close of the meeting, 19 residents voted to hold off doing anything until the impact of new businesses coming into the area develops. In another vote, 20 residents agreed that any rezoning should affect only Maximo Plaza shopping center, not the rest of the area.

The rezoning would not change the retail uses, Wolochowicz said, and adult businesses would be allowed under either category. Commercial parkway zoning allows mini-storage facilities and filling stations.

If the area is rezoned, any light industrial company would go before the Environmental Development Commission with its plans. Commissioners and residents would have an opportunity to discuss noise, hours of operation, landscape buffering and other impacts on the neighborhood.

Residents who wanted to put off any decision on rezoning Maximo Plaza pointed out that several new businesses in Maximo Plaza _ a go-cart racing business and a mini-storage facility _ may turn the 14-acre center around. With the arrival of ABR Information Services and the eventual addition of 1,500 employees at the Florida Power building on 34th Street S, retail establishments may get an influx of new business. Those two developments might make Maximo a better retail market, Wardrum said. For nearby neighbors, retail shopping is probably preferable over office use, she said.

"We see 34th Street as an extension of our neighborhood," she said. "It is the service area for our neighborhood."