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Straub Court fights neighbor

(ran East, South editions)

Residents of Straub Court on the edge of downtown are upset about plans by Allard Investment Realty to build a 20-story, mixed-use project next to their small townhome complex.

They say the project is too high and too dense and will bring too much traffic to the surrounding streets and the alley in back of the townhome complex at 337 Fourth Ave. N.

"Straub Court is a 14-unit development of three-story townhomes completed in 2001 on a site approximately the size of the Allard site," said a letter from the homeowners association to city development officials.

Before the plans got a hearing before development officials, Straub residents appealed and the matter was sent to the Board of Adjustment, where it will be heard Friday. The basis for the appeal is whether Allard's plans comply with city code that allows extra density in exchange for open space. Straub residents contend that what Allard plans as open space is not really open.

Allard wants to build the 20-story complex at 401 Fourth St. N. In addition to 70 units, the not-yet-named project would have ground-floor retail and four levels of parking with 132 parking spaces that would look out onto Straub Court.

"We are among the pioneers in the renaissance of downtown St. Petersburg, and our development often is cited as an example of downtown livability," the association letter continues. It was signed by JoAnn Schulz, president; Terry Rimer, vice president; and Chris Stambaugh, treasurer.

"We do not oppose development," said Rimer, who lives at Straub with her husband, Todd German, and father, Raymond Rimer. "We realize it is the natural course for there to be development around us."

But residents are hearing that large projects might be built east and north of them also, creating a canyonlike effect on Straub Court.

The Allard plans were supposed to get their first airing before the city on Feb. 1. Consideration of the plans was delayed after the appeal.

In their appeal, Straub homeowners challenge the open space in the Allard plan, which allows the developer to have more units. They contend that the planned space is not really open because it is surrounded by three sides and covered.

C. Randolph Wedding, architect for the Allard project, said the plans follow the code. He did say the wording in the code pertaining to open space was a bit unusual.

"That isn't abnormal for codes," Wedding said. "We fully expect the board to uphold" the plans.

The city's zoning officer, John R. Hixenbaugh, said in a memo to the Board of Adjustment that the part of the code about the bonus and open space is vague in some parts but that Allard's plans comply with the definition.