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New land use OK'd for Nielsen property
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Photo courtesy of PINELLAS COUNTY
The city of Dunedin has special plans for the 22.3 acres outlined in yellow along Patricia Avenue.
CLEARWATER – A prime spot of Dunedin real estate has been without a tenant for nine years. But new life may be coming to the neighborhood in the near future.

Pinellas County Commissioners, sitting at the Countywide Planning Authority, said yes April 1 to a request from the city of Dunedin for a land use amendment, moving forward redevelopment plans for the former Nielsen Media Research site at 375 Patricia Ave. The Dunedin City Commission followed up with a unanimous vote on an ordiance’s second reading on April 17 to change its land use and zoning to better fit its new vision for the site.

At the county meeting, Dunedin requested that the county’s future land use plan be amended on 23.2 acres from commercial general to industrial limited, to planned redevelopment-mixed use. The amendment supports an accompanying “special area plan for 375 Patricia Ave.,” submitted by the city. The special area plan provides flexible development parameters, designed to encourage redevelopment.

Mike Crawford, interim director of Pinellas Planning Council, said the Nielsen Media buildings had been demolished in 2012, and the land was ready for redevelopment. The site has been vacant since 2005 when Nielsen moved its operations to Oldsmar.

A developer bought the property in August 2005 with the intention of adding a mixed use residential component to the existing Nielsen office buildings, according to a memo to the Dunedin City Commission from Greg Rice, the director of planning and development for the city. However, after the economic downturn hit in 2008, the project failed and the site went into foreclosure. The site then reverted back to the mortgage holder, Wells Fargo Bank, in August 2009.

After many years of no movement on the site, Wells Fargo and the city partnered with other entities to develop a new vision for the property.”

“This is a great evening,” Rice said at the City Commission meeting April 17. “This marks the conclusion of a very strong collaborative effort by Wells Fargo Bank; Joel Tew, who’s a land use attorney (with Tew & Associates); Heidt Design planning firm; the county; Pinellas Planning Coucnil; and the city. It took us a while but we’ve got this done and we all think the property is going to move in a very positive direction.”

These partners realized that the city’s existing zoning of light industrial and general business and the land use of industrial limited and commercial general were not condusive to the types of development they hope to attract in the Patricia Avenue Corridor. Furthermore, the memo from Rice explains, there are other vacant industrial parcels throughout the county, which compete with this site.

“These competing properties are better positioned for transit, air travel and workforce commuting,” the memo to the city said. “The lack of interest in this site over the last eight years also testifies to the idea that the zoning may not necessarily be the highest and best use of this vacant land.”

Wells Fargo consulted with Tew and the Tampa planning firm Heidt Design to come up with ideas for land use and zoning that would be a better fit, resulting in the land use of “planned development mixed-use” and zoning of “form-based medium” for the city and the county land use of “planned redevelopment-mixed use.”

“The goal of the new proposal is to offer a mixed use alternative tht will convince developers to invest in the Patricia Avenue Corridor,” the memo from Rice said. “An additional goal is for the 375 Patricia Avenue redevelopment to be the catalyst project for the entire corridor.”

At the county meeting, Crawford said the PPC, which supports the request, had evaluated the proposed amendment under the recently adopted criteria for land use amendments involving industrial zones. The PPC agreed with Dunedin that the site is “challenged” for industrial use. The site has no access to an arterial roadway and it is not located near other industrial uses or related businesses.

He said the special area plan for the area “supports the rationale needs of the city.”

The plan identifies specific mixed uses to control density. It also targets specific types of employment. It establishes three primary uses for the land – retail/other, office/target-employment use and residential. The plan sets minimum and maximum percentages for each type of use.

Retail/other could include retail and institutional uses, such as a government office or daycare center. Office/target-employment, includes high-wage jobs in the fields of aviation/aerospace, financial services, high tech industries, information technology, marine science, medical technology, microelectronics, modeling/simulation, optics/photonics, research/development and wireless technology.

Residential uses could include multifamily residential, townhouse residential and vertical mixed-use residential/nonresidential development. Proposed density is 18 to 24 units per acre.

Economic Director Mike Meidel also spoke in favor at the county meeting of the amendment. He pointed out that the property is located miles away from any arterial roadways and is in a predominantly residential area. Nielson hired a number of part-time workers, including seniors. The area is populated by older people, he said.

He fully supports Dunedin’s plan to preserve target-employment in the area.

“We very much want this,” Rice said at the county meeting. “We’re excited about this new mixed use.”

Tew was present at that meeting and zoning that allowed more flexibility would make it possible to market property. He said the neighbors had been involved in the planning process and none objected to adding mixed uses.

No one from the public spoke in opposition of the amendment April 1.

One 29-year restaurant owner spoke on behalf of other restaurateurs and businesses in the area. He said when Nielsen left, all the businesses in the neighborhood suffered.

“We’d like this project to go forward,” he said. “There is a desperate need. Everyone will benefit from this.”

Unanimous support was echoed in the city’s April 17 meeting.

“This has been a very long time and it does seem like at a certain point, lightbulbs went on,” said Dunedin Commissioner Julie Scales. “For us it was maybe we can break up the parcel into three instead of one big thing, and another one was demolishing the buildings, and then you (Tew) came forward with that it could probably be marketable if the land use and zonings changed. So thank you very much for brinigng that to the city, and Greg (Rice) and staff did a yeoman’s job with following through and working with the county.”

Rice said that neither the city nor the county will lose anything from changing the focus from light industry. The focus on those types of industries will just be directed to the S.R. 580 area instead.

“The thing we tried to assure (the county) is that we would prefer to offer what we think is a much better area for target employment, and that is our form-based high which will be from C.R. 1 to Belcher along S.R. 580. We are providing the zoning that will accommodate clean industry and office, and we also think that 580 is a much superior location than Avenue based on the traffic count and also our strong hope that Greenlight Pinellas comes through. And then we would have great bus mass transit service to anyone located there. So you’re not giving up anything. We’re just going to move it.”

The entire City Commission expressed excitement in the plan and thanked everyone for their hard work in getting to this point. Tew said that there has already been interest in the properties, and that should continue.

“We believe we have positioned this property for an aggressive marketing campaign, and hopefully we will all be very happy with the outcome,” Tew said. “…The bank went ahead and authorized Cushman & Wakefield to launch their initial marketing brochure, they’ve already initiated a very large regional campaign. They put it out there with the qualification that it’s subject for final approval tonight (April 17.) I have already received myself a very credible offer for the property, and I think the bank is expecting more, so we are very optimistic that we will be able to position this and procure a very reputable mixed-use developer that can get this thing launched and hopefully deliver something we will all be proud of.”
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