ST. PETE BEACH — Amid reports that an upscale developer is considering a mixed-use, restaurant-retail-residential development on Eighth Avenue, the City Commission quickly approved new zoning regulations to influence the look and feel of new buildings in the Pass-a-Grille Historic District.
"The city wants to ensure that the historic characteristics of the Eighth Avenue area can be maintained and replicated," community development director Jenny Bryla told the commission last month as it unanimously approved revised land use regulations.
The new rules will allow businesses to encroach over and onto their sidewalks, creating a shaded arcade area beneath New Orleans-style balconies.
Presently, the Eighth Avenue business district includes a mix of cafes, restaurants, art galleries and retail shops featuring clothing, beachwear and jewelry and even cigars.
Businesses affected by the new regulations are located on both Eighth and Ninth avenues and part of an alley that extends southward toward Seventh Avenue.
The change in zoning regulations was first considered in 2010, reviewed again in 2012, but until now never implemented.
"We have several people interested in development along Eighth Avenue," Bryla said. "We wanted to be proactive and put this in place now."
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher, who represents the Pass-a-Grille area, supported the rule change but urged the commission to go even farther.
"We have top-tier redevelopment opportunity on Eighth Avenue, but we also have to look at the entire big picture and make sure we have plans in place to allow redevelopment in other areas to occur," she said.
If area businesses wanted to offer sidewalk dining in Pass-a-Grille, as is now under consideration for the Corey Avenue area, the city would have to change its setback regulations to allow buildings to be located farther back from the street, creating room for al fresco dining.
"If we want sidewalk dining, this ordinance doesn't allow for that. I would also like to incorporate a wider expanse than Eighth Avenue," Pletcher said.
Because the sidewalks are relatively narrow, outdoor dining would require building fronts to be set farther back than they are now and would require additional changes to building regulations.
The city's Planning Board has asked that the city allow up to 75 percent of a building structure to be setback farther than now allowed from the front property line.
The current rules, as updated by the commission, call for a minimum of 75 feet of building frontage to be built in line with surrounding buildings or to be at least no more than two feet from the front property line, whichever is less.
What the new rules do is to allow "marquees, canopies, colonnades, arcades or fixed awnings" to project over the public sidewalk up to the curb line. The upper stories of a building also may extend out to the curb line but must be open porches or balconies.
Roofs over top floor balconies would have to be no more than 50 percent opaque to allow some light through and decrease the creation of a canyon-effect along the street.