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CITY UNVEILS PLAN FOR BUSINESS DESIGN

Next steps: proprietors' feedback and design team tweaks.

Almost two years after they said they wanted to create an architectural identity that would distinguish Seminole from other Pinellas cities, council members finally got a look at a plan.

The draft sets no particular building style. Instead, it concentrates on such issues as the amount of landscaping that would surround businesses along Seminole's main corridors: Park and Seminole boulevards and portions of Park Street and Bay Pines Boulevard.

City officials plan to invite business owners in the affected areas to one of two public meetings to get a look at the standards, ask questions and make suggestions. After that, the design team from the Florida Institute of Government at the University of South Florida will have a chance to finalize the plan before it goes back to the City Council.

"This is a process that is not going to happen overnight," Seminole City Manager Frank Edmunds said during a Jan. 29 workshop on the proposal.

Seminole council members gave Edmunds the go-ahead in early 2006 to develop standards or guidelines that would improve the aesthetics of the city's main business corridors.

The idea was to distinguish Seminole from other Pinellas cities and to make it so inviting that people would stop rather than just driving through on their way elsewhere.

In late 2006, the council agreed to spend about $150,000 to have the USF team come up with the standards. A committee of city business owners was also established to meet regularly with the designers to provide comments and ideas.

The result, after a year of meeting, was a picture-based document that would show business owners what is required. Among the changes: requirements for more landscaping, rules about signs, and more substantial requirements like building height.

Council members worried about the "trigger point" that would force an existing business to comply with the new rules.

Community development head Mark Ely said there are three general situations in which the standards would come into play:

- Complete renovations or new construction.

- Rehab of abandoned business properties.

- Partial renovations. Deciding when a partial renovation would be substantial enough to require the business owner to follow the new rules is the tricky part, Ely said.

Some cities provide incentives to encourage business owners to comply even if they have not reached a trigger point. Edmunds said he envisions offering incentives like low-interest loans or matching grants to encourage immediate upgrades to landscaping and signs because those are so visible and would provide an immediate impact for passers-by.

But, he said, he did not foresee offering incentives to encourage business owners to make architectural changes.

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