Shown is an artist rendering of the Courtyard on Main Street.
DUNEDIN – The third time was the charm for a downtown Dunedin development project that had been rejected twice after residents and city officials expressed concerns over its size, scope and density.
Plans for the Courtyard on Main, a mixed-use development featuring residential, retail, restaurant and 49 underground parking spaces, were thwarted by the City Commission earlier this year after the developer, Arlis Construction, received complaints about everything from the height of the structure and its proximity to the street to the colors and architectural style of the three-story building.
But instead of scrapping the project altogether, the applicant instructed architects from the Lunz Group to go back to the drawing board, and they recently presented the newest Courtyard on Main proposal to the Local Planning Authority, where it was met with considerably more positivity than the prior versions.
“I live locally. I’m not from some other part of the state or the country,” Arlis spokesperson Nils Kushta told the LPA on Wednesday, Aug. 9. “We’re here for the third time, and hopefully, it’s final.”
Kushta went on to relate how Arlis tasked the Lunz Group, and local architect Jim Graham, to engage members of the community, as well as several organizations, to determine what they would like to see happen with the site.
“We met with several groups … and we got their ideas, we got their proposals,” Kushta said. “Of course, we can’t incorporate all the ideas in one project. But we tried to incorporate a more classical design that fits in with the fabric of downtown Dunedin.”
Graham outlined the key changes to the proposal, which included reducing the overall density, changing the colors and architectural scheme and incorporating an open, public space on the corner facing Pioneer Park.
“We started putting ideas together that we thought might work, and one of the things we wanted to put out to you is we’ve renegotiated the size of the project,” Graham said. “We’ve reduced the mass of the project by 20 percent over the previous application. What we’ve done, too, is we looked at the site and there’s a lot of little open spaces in the downtown area, at Skips and the Living Room and the Purple Heart Park. So what we thought is, why don’t we do that? Let’s bring part of Pioneer Park and make that open space.”
Graham explained how the decision led the designers to “chop that corner off,” by bringing the building to the 7-foot setback for the easement along the trail and pushing it back, creating an area that could be utilized as an outdoor café space.
“We’re taking that corner and opening it up,” he said.
While city officials and some residents applauded the effort, others questioned whether the redesigned corner could really be used as a public open space.
“I want to thank you for bringing some points about the open space, because I’m a little bit confused about it,” resident Linda Medeiros said. “It’s public, but it’s not public. It’s owned by the applicant but they’re giving it to the city, then the city is giving it back to them, to use, sort of, for a restaurant, but in return, they’re going to maintain the space? Why are they doing that?”
Planning and Development director Greg Rice offered an explanation, stating, “what was designed here was that this private property would be conveyed to the city, then just like what has been done for the Pisces restaurant and for the Living Room, that city right of way would allow for some outdoor dining for that potential restaurant.”
Additional changes to the application included moving a planned outdoor terrace on the upper level of the 18-unit residential floor down to the second level, where it can be shared with the retail establishments; incorporating different shapes and angles, as well as pastel colors, into the structure to match the look and feel of other downtown buildings; and adding landscaping and trees that are compatible with an urban environment.
Despite the significant changes, some residents still expressed displeasure with the project.
“I’m sorry to say, I really don’t think this is good enough. It’s better, but it’s not good enough,” Kathy Greenwood said. “It feels like they are trying to put 15 pounds of stuff in a 10-pound bag. This project is too dense.”
“It belongs in St. Pete,” Kristie McClure added. “It doesn’t belong on Dunedin’s Main Street.”
However, the revamped project received a stamp of approval from other residents, including a representative of the Preserve the Vibe organization.
“Speaking on behalf of Preserve the Vibe, I’m very impressed by what the developer has done, and given up, to make this work,” Harry Steinman said. “The developer, by pushing the stepback from the second floor down to the first floor, has given up square footage … and he’s paid a financial price for that.”
Steinman added that opening the lines of communication on all sides “could be a template for working together in the community,” a fact that the LPA board members agreed with.
“Seeing this three times, I will admit the architect and the developer did come up with a unique solution to a major line of sight problem,” Dan Massaro said. “I have a difficult time saying no to a project that brings in $100,000 (in tax revenue) every year.”
“I think the process that’s been gone through since the last iteration of this project has been very positive,” James Roberts added. “The process was positive and the improvements significant, and even if they are concerned about the scope and the scale of it, this is much, much better than it was before.”
LPA chair Diane Brandt had the final word.
“This is a remarkable transition from what we first saw, and it is really attractive,” she said. “This is really refreshing to see something that has come a far way.”
The board then unanimously approved the project, by a vote of 8-0, which is expected to go before the City Commission in September.