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Group proposes design rules

(ran PC edition of PASCO TIMES)

An official with Downtown Dade City Main Street wants to ensure new structures fit the area's ambience.

Rocked by the whirlwind closing and demolition of the Pasco Twin Theatre, leaders of Downtown Dade City Main Street vow to push for a city board that would have the power to limit what types of buildings could be erected in the heart of town.

Gail Hamilton, executive director of the downtown group, said Friday that Main Street leaders want to protect their downtown from inappropriate construction.

The city was fortunate, Hamilton said, that officers of the Community National Bank who are building a branch at the site of the old theater have stated their desire to build something that fits in with the town's character. They didn't have to, she said.

A large chain drugstore, video rental outlet or restaurant may not be as willing to change its standard design to fit Dade City, unless it is required, she said.

"The merchants and people here and the county have put a lot of money into maintaining the quality of the town and the character of it," she said. "It wouldn't be fair for someone to come in and put up a big blue box next to them."

Hamilton said Main Street is looking for help from other cities _ such as Winter Park and Plant City _ that have set up architectural review boards and design ordinances. The group plans to create a proposal using the boundaries of the established downtown redevelopment district and submit it to the City Commission as quickly as possible.

"We want to strike while the memory of the Pasco theater is still in people's minds," she said. "Little by little, we're seeing our town slip away from us. First, it's the theater, then another building, then we look like all the other towns, and the things that made Dade City special are gone."

The 51-year-old downtown movie theater was closed and wiped out less than three weeks after word got out. By the time the public knew about the plan to close it, it was too late, Hamilton said.

The theater was considered important to area redevelopment and was mentioned by name in a city-sponsored redevelopment study prepared this year by a consulting firm.

City Planner Doug Currier said the concept of an architectural review board is not unheard of and can create legally enforceable rules. "It can be as narrow and specific or as broad as the city wants," he said.

If the City Commission establishes a board and limits some kinds of building, the city could legally stop or force changes in a project, he said.

Mayor Charles McIntosh said Friday he hadn't reviewed the proposal or considered it, but he said it would be something he would be willing to consider and even support. "I wouldn't be against that," he said. "It might give us a better way to keep our city."

Hamilton said the proposal is still in its infancy, and she acknowledged the need to consider all property owners and assure them the idea is not to take away their rights or damage the value of their property.

"We want to protect their property value," she said. "How do you carry a big stick and a carrot at the same time? That's what we have to do, encourage growth but the right kind of growth."