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City considers imposing retail design rules

City officials agreed Tuesday to create an ordinance that would regulate large-scale retail design standards in Largo.

The proposed regulations would apply to all new retail construction greater than 50,000 square feet for a single building, new construction of a multitenant building 75,000 square feet or larger, and any 25,000-square-foot addition to an existing 50,000-square-foot structure.

City commissioners recently adopted a strategic plan, hoping to transform the sprawl created by strip centers and gargantuan superstores into pedestrian-friendly town centers.

For years, Pinellas County's third-largest city has been shaped by a "build-as-you-grow" approach.

The proposed ordinance, which will be drafted by city staff, would ensure that redevelopment will be consistent with commissioners' vision for the city.

"You don't know how much I love this," said Commissioner Pat Burke.

"Big box" retail development refers to centers such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target or Home Depot that occupy more than 50,000 square feet. Typically, such single-story buildings are between 90,000- to 200,000-square-feet, with large parking lots and no windows.

Other municipalities have adopted ordinances controlling development of large-scale retail uses. Similar ordinances in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Pasco and Orange counties focus on controlling the scale of large structures, and requiring transportation and community impact studies.

Under the proposal, the maximum building footprint would be limited to 125,000 square feet. Retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart could develop two-story stores, while home improvement stores could be exempt from the limit because of the bulky nature of the goods sold.

Commissioner Charlie Harper wanted to know what the economic impact of such an ordinance would be.

John Atanasio, a shopping center developer, said the proposed regulations would increase construction costs and create liability issues, as elevators would have to be provided in a two-story building.

"This is aimed at keeping the Wal-Mart Supercenter out of Largo," said Mayor Bob Jackson. "You're not protecting your own business people by fighting what the people want."

But other commissioners said if developers want to come, they'll be willing to play by their rules.

"If they really want to come in, they'll do it," said Commissioner Jean Halvorsen.

Currently large parking fields isolate retail centers and are pedestrian unfriendly. The new design regulations call for parking lots to be distributed around the building, separated by landscaping. Dumpsters would be hidden, while shopping cart storage will be screened by a wall or kept within the building.

Sidewalks, pavement markings and even shelters will improve pedestrian access. Currently, retail centers such as Clearwater Mall force customers to drive from store to store.

"You would never walk even if you wanted to walk," said Commissioner Gay Gentry. "It's too dangerous to walk."

The architecture of any building will incorporate arcades and display windows, city staff recommended. Corrugated metal and unfinished concrete cannot be used for the building's exterior.

Shannon Tan can be reached at shtansptimes.com or 445-4174.

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