DUNEDIN – In recent years, opinions about new development in the community have flowed as freely as the beer in the city’s many downtown haunts.
From multimillion-dollar mixed-use projects to new breweries and enhanced streetscaping, growth has bolstered tax coffers and increased downtown activity, but it also has posed challenges for city officials – such as how to preserve downtown’s ambiance and ensure that adequate parking areas are available to residents and visitors.
Discussions continue on development issues, such as architectural standards.
Previous plans for a mixed-use project at Douglas Avenue and Main Street drew fire from numerous residents who said the architecture, called coastal vernacular, wasn’t compatible with that of surrounding developments. Commissioners voted 3-2 to deny the project.
Commissioner Moe Freaney addressed the need for more architectural review at the commission’s budget work sessions July 7.
Freaney said she would like the commission to consider using an architectural consultant for advice.
“Because I think when we get in here on development things we listen to the architect for the developer – we have no expert architect on staff. We are not architects. We get criticized for trying to be architects but we don’t have any expertise to fall back on,” Freaney said.
During discussion review of a project, she said she was glad to hear a retired architect’s criticism of the project.
She suggested that building permit fees could be used to pay for the architects.
“I just want to look into that. Maybe it’s somebody outside the area who isn’t tied to different architects,” Freaney said.
Commissioner Deborah Kynes said she agreed with the idea.
“Because you have a clean third party evaluation,” she said.
Planning and Development Director Greg Rice said he has had a discussion with James Moore, a planning consultant who will be coordinating the city’s upcoming visioning sessions, on architectural review.
Rice said he was told an architect in Miami will take the time to examine the city’s architectural styles “and if we want to reduce them, he will basically write a code that will give us the legitimacy you are looking for.”
“James (Moore) is recommending going that way. Instead of having a small paragraph about coastal vernacular, you will have a code that is very specific on the types of things that would have to be included in that,” Rice said.
The hard part of finding architects is they don’t like to criticize each other, Rice said.
“He (Moore) feels having a person in Miami take our styles and really write a very specific code to that would give us all the evaluation tools if we wanted to go that route,” Rice said.
That’s what the city is lacking, Freaney said.
“If you are going to pick coastal vernacular, here are the minimum things that need to be there for it really to be coastal vernacular,” she said.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said she wanted a review of financial incentives for developers.
“I think we absolutely need a toolbox of incentives,” she said. “How they are implemented is where we are getting ourselves in trouble – where they need to be a negotiation tool to get us what we want for our community versus an automatic.”
Every situation involving incentives is different, said city Housing and Economic Development Director Bob Ironsmith, and is part of a development agreement that is subject to commission negotiations.
Before they make any determination on whether they should repeal any incentives, commissioners will wait until after the visioning sessions with the public are conducted.
“I’m just saying get on our list of goals, so we don’t lose sight of it,” Ward Bujalski said.
Ironsmith and Rice plan to work on that task together. The idea, Rice said, is to try to get as many of the incentives as negotiable as possible in the form of a development agreement instead of being “by right in the code.”
Among other goals related to economic development are evaluating the status of the city’s arts and business incubators. Also discussed was encouraging the establishment of a downtown market, which also has been suggested by residents, trying to create more affordable housing in the city and addressing a mobility plan for downtown.
Ironsmith also discussed some recent economic development activity in the city, such as the mixed-use development called Victoria Place located just north of the marina on Edgewater Drive.
“The city incentive wise helped with the LDO (land development ordinance). It was around $200,000. In return we are getting probably $1.4 million over a 10-year-time period,” he said.
He said in terms of economic development dollars, for each $1 that the city gave it got $7 in return.
“Believe me that is far and away way better than other places are seeing in the country,” he said.