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Leader seeks tower limit

For years, leaders used the city's sparkling view of Tampa Bay to attract developers downtown.

Now, concerned about creating a "wall of condominiums," some City Council members want to limit the size of buildings constructed on the waterfront.

"I'm hearing from the numerous groups I address that they are afraid of overdevelopment of the waterfront property," said City Council member Bill Foster. "I haven't talked to anybody who is really happy these projects are occurring."

Foster is pushing to shrink the permitted size of buildings along Beach and North Shore drives between Progress Energy Park and Fifth Avenue N.

His plan already is drawing criticism from other council members, as well as the mayor.

"We already have plenty of regulations, and they are working," said council member John Bryan.

Foster's proposal would affect only future developments. The proposed Opus South Corp. buildings, which will place two 30-story high-rises on Beach Drive, wouldn't be affected, nor would any of the other existing condominiums.

In fact, there currently are only two places where a developer could put a condominium tower: the southeast corner of Second Avenue N and First Street and the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue N and First.

But Foster said he's looking ahead, with an eye toward restricting future redevelopment.

"None of us ever expected such large-scale projects on the waterfront," he said.

Under current city restrictions, a developer must limit the size of a building to four times the total area of the property.

In other words, if a builder has a 10,000-square-foot parcel of land, then he can build a 40,000-square-foot structure. Foster wants to reduce the permissible ratio to 3:1, which would mean that same developer would be restricted to a 30,000-square-foot building.

If the restriction had been in place 10 years ago, it would have chopped off the tops of the Cloisters and the Florencia condominium towers.

Assistant City Attorney Mark Winn said the proposal could leave the city vulnerable to millions of dollars in lawsuits.

When a government decision deprives a property owner of his existing or vested rights on a piece of land, state law allows the owner to seek compensation for the loss in market value.

Winn said waterfront property owners could sue the city, saying the restriction unfairly reduced the value of their land.

But council member Virginia Littrell, a supporter of the size restrictions, said that's a chance the city should be willing to take.

"We're stuck," she said. "We either stand up and fight for our waterfront, or we say, "Here. Take it.' "

After discussing the issue at a subcommittee Thursday, council members opted to send the proposal to the Planning Board for review.

During the meeting, Foster said he's expecting opposition from Mayor Rick Baker.

"I don't think the mayor has ever seen a high-rise he didn't like," he said.

Baker said he thought Foster's plan was unnecessary. Current restrictions, which also force a building to be set back from the street, are sufficient to preserve the neighborhood feeling along the waterfront, he feels.

"If Bill wants to change things, I'd like to know why," he said. "What is it that needs to be fixed?"

Council member Bryan agreed with Baker and said further limiting the size of the buildings would send the wrong message to developers.

"I challenge people to go out to the Pier and look out over the city," he said. "You won't see a solid wall. You'll see a huge amount of space between buildings."

Bryan shook his head in bemusement as he thought about how the city has changed; it has only been a decade since they were in "beg mode," trying to lure developers downtown.

"I don't look at those as big, ugly buildings," he said. "I look at it as a place where 50 or 100 families choose to live. Ten years ago we wouldn't have had this discussion."

_ Carrie Johnson can be reached at 892-2273 or cjohnsonsptimes.com.

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