West Bay Plan Raises an Array of Questions
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO – When the West Bay Drive - Community Redevelopment Plan (WBD-CRD) is brought before the City Commission – probably at next week’s work session meeting, but no schedule has been issued yet – commissioners and the public will see a plan that is sprinkled with problems.
All is not clear as to the intent and results of the plan, which has been in the works for a long time and has undergone changes from the original concept.
For one thing, it is far more extensive and it intrudes into residential neighborhoods in ways that were not originally envisioned.
One aspect added to the equation is the law signed by Gov. Charlie Crist that changes Florida’s growth management laws. The new law allows developers to expand housing developments and allows cities to designate new urban development areas.
A major yellow light flashing urgently in regard to WBD-CRD is the apparent timing that the powers that be seem to want. City officials want the plan to hurtle through the City Commission vetting at record speed.
However, an undertaking of this magnitude must be taken slowly and with deliberation. The questionable economic times also dictate that a high degree of prudence be exercised.
The WBD-CRD plan to be found on the city’s web site is extensive – a multi-page document with maps and charts and obfuscating bureaucratese and goes on and on. Even a sophisticate reader can get lost in the thickets of description the plan attempts.
Thus, all the more reason for deliberate action. The plan needs to be parsed closely and taken apart piece by piece.
There are flaws that almost have a loud ringing bell quality to them.
For example – Height maxims in part of the areas defined by the plan are designated not in feet but in stories in a given building.
Thus, in the "mixed use corridor" a given building could be well more than 120 feet high. The restriction is eight stories, but there are no restrictions on the height of each story and "structured parking" (on the very lowest level of the building) is not included nor is the "mechanical" needs (air conditioning, elevator shaft housing, etc.) on the roof.
Obviously, as observers point out, this could become a nightmare with huge buildings – equivalent to 12 or 13 stories – looming over residential areas, blocking sight lines and views, and very uncomfortable in an aesthetic sense.
Another example is the question of density. The design in the plan would allow for 30 units per acre, according to some concerned citizens who have closely examined the plan. In fact, they say, 15 units per acre is dense for Largo.
The development of the plan has been kept pretty much under wraps, proponents on the city staff obviously wary of igniting a lot of public awareness that might lead to dissatisfactions and protests.
"If ever there was a plan whose godfathers want to rush through and make it a fait accompli, it is this one," one knowledgeable observer said.
A few "informational" meetings were held that paid lip service to the obligation of making the public aware but no widespread publicity accompanied these meetings.
For a hearing by the Planning Board last month, the board got the plan only two days before the meeting, hardly enough time for members to intelligently examine and digest such a vast undertaking.
One former commission member said, "I support redevelopment but the current plan has problems. It raises more questions than provides answers."
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