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Traffic worries upend Channel District project

Developer Brooks Byrd has been working for four years to put together a condo project for the Channel District.

He'll have to work a little longer.

The City Council late Thursday sent Byrd back to the drawing board, saying his proposal for two 30-story towers with 250 condos and a 58,000-square-foot retail center with a grocery story would cause too many traffic problems for the district.

In particular, council members worried about its impact on Harbour Island residents. The project, called Blu, is slated for Channelside Drive at Beneficial Bridge, which Harbour Island residents use to get to and from their homes.

The proposal calls for a left turn lane into the project from Beneficial Bridge. Traffic studies estimate it would add up to 6,000 cars a day at the site. Harbour Island residents say it will cause back-ups when motorists wait to turn left into Blu.

They say they already have problems getting to their homes via the Harbour Island Bridge near the convention center.

"If it wasn't for that situation we probably would not be adamant about this decision," Harbour Island resident Joyce Schauer told the Council. "We are absolutely opposed to the left-hand turn on Beneficial."

Council member John Dingfelder said using a street at the western edge of the property to get in and out of the site would solve the traffic circulation problems. But that land is owned by the Tampa Port Authority, which won't allow the developer to use it for that purpose, said Randy Coen, a traffic engineer working for the Port Authority.

"We've got some major, major issues," Dingfelder said. We will . . . choke off Harbour Island if we allow this. There's got to be a better plan."

The 21-acre site was approved nearly 20 years ago for 1-million square feet of office space, a hotel and retail. But that was before the Channel District became an artist's enclave and then an exploding residential and entertainment district.

Now, gridlock and parking problems often hit the neighborhood on weekend nights or if there's a big event at the nearby St. Pete Times Forum or Tampa Convention Center.

"Whether or not this project gets approved, the city needs to look at traffic congestion in this area," Harbour Island homeowner Dave Schlingman told City Council.

The Byrd project has its supporters.

Developer Greg Minder said it will bring amenities to the area that city leaders have said it needs, such as a grocery store.

"I'm a little confused as to how a turn lane causes so many problems," Minder said. "The traffic can be adjusted and controlled and handled."

Minder and Guy Revelle, who owns four restaurants at the Channelside complex, also said the Channel District needs thousands of residents to support the retail components. Council members weren't convinced.

"I think it's a good project," said council member Rose Ferlita. "But if I were a resident of Harbour Island I wouldn't like what I would have to tolerate for years to come."

Byrd is scheduled to come back to the City Council with a revised plan at 6 p.m. May 11.

Janet Zink can be reached at (813) 226-3401 or jzink@spttmes.com.

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