CLEARWATER – With construction well under way in many stretches of U.S. 19 and nearing completion in others, the Clearwater City Council was briefed on Sept. 4 about the progress being made on a study to suggest ways to better utilize the corridor adjoining that major north-south thoroughfare.
The study is being done by the Omaha-based HDR engineering firm.
“This is a series of strategies designed to look at the future of U.S. 19,” HDR spokesman Steve Schukraft said of the study.
A call for public input has brought in 118 different ideas, and more than 200 comments on those ideas.
“The final phase of work to prepare a redevelopment plan for the U.S. 19 corridor is under way,” a staff memo to the council explained. “With assistance from a consultant team led by HDR, the (city’s) planning and development department is working with corridor stakeholders to define land use and development strategies to leverage the corridor’s unique locational advantages, capitalize on market opportunities, and maximize benefits of planned transit and transportation improvements.”
One section of the plan deals with the revitalization of the corridor’s regional and neighborhood centers. It suggests allowing higher density and intensity in the Countryside and Gulf-to-Bay regional centers to promote redevelopment in those areas.
Another advocates revising regulations to attract “more urban forms of development,” such as mixed uses, interconnected streets, quality streetscapes, and accessible public spaces. Others would initiate a “wayfinding signage program” to help tourists and locals better find their way around, and identify ways to connect destinations within the area and in nearby neighborhoods.
The plan suggests using the “in-between areas,” between regional and neighborhood centers for corporate offices, research laboratories and “employment-intensive” uses, instead of retail stores. To attract such businesses, the plan suggests allowing higher densities and creating a higher degree of uniformity in such things as front setbacks, landscaping, site improvements, and travel between parcels.
Corridor-wide, the plan suggests an incentive plan for investors or businesses to buy and raze or renovate older buildings. It also suggests revising regulations to make it easier to consolidate ownership, plan for phased development, and adopt innovative design and development strategies.
To keep the corridor competitive, the plan suggests the creation of a Corridor Improvement Association. To encourage development, it advocates reducing permit and impact fees and offering either tax exemptions or direct financial incentives. It also says the permitting process should be streamlined by allowing certain small projects to be approved administratively, and by assigning a “dedicated permit technician” to each large project.
To enhance the aesthetics and livability of the corridor, the study says the city should invest in roadway and intersection improvements, landscape and streetscape enhancements, stormwater management, transit facility upgrades and public
parking. It should also adopt a carrot-and-stick technique by incentivizing owners to raze or repair their ramshackle buildings, and cracking down on those who refuse.
The “gateway” intersections of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and McMullen Booth Road, Belleair Road and U.S. 19, and Main Street/S.R. 580 and U.S. 19 should be beautified and enhanced, the study says. And a “branding and marketing initiative” should be adopted to promote those areas.
To promote mobility, the plan says the city should work with property owners to identify local streets that can be lengthened or new streets that can be built. And new development and redevelopment projects should be required to have enough streets to provide adequate traffic flow.
For people without cars, the plan wants certain regional and neighborhood centers designated as “Pedestrian Priority Areas,” with improved sidewalks, roadway crossings and bike lanes. Those areas would also have improved access to the Progress Energy and Ream Wilson trails.
Bus transportation is an important part of the plan, which favors both a Bus Rapid Transit system and the current bus system in the corridor. It also favors park and ride lots for bus passengers, better bus shelters and improved transit infrastructure.
A draft report on the study is scheduled to be released next month.