CLEARWATER – After months of negotiations, the issue of transferring development rights in historical downtown Palm Harbor is in the hand of the Pinellas Planning Council.
Pinellas County Commissioners approved the controversial measure Feb. 21 after months of meetings with residents, who are not all happy with the plan that would clear the way for a local business to construct a new three-story building in downtown Palm Harbor.
The PPC is scheduled to vote on the matter on March 21. If approved, county commissioners will have one more chance to approve or disapprove the use of TDRs at an April meeting.
Several changes were made to the plan, which staff presented Feb. 21. The use of TDRs will only be allowed on approximately 15 acres within the boundary of the east sub-district of the Old Palm Harbor historical downtown commercial corridor.
The maximum density increase on a receiving parcel cannot exceed 75 percent. A sending parcel can only transfer 50 percent of its allowable density, which solves residents’ objections to creating areas of vacant lots. Only one application may be approved for a receiving parcel although development rights can be transferred from multiple sending parcels.
Another change from the original plan allows sending parcels to buy back development rights in the future.
County staff has been working on the plan since July. They say it is the only feasible method to allow Paul Toomey, owner of Geographic Solutions, to expand his business.
Geographic Solutions is a privately owned company established in 1992. It is the nation's leading provider of software solutions for workforce development, employment, and training, according to its website.
Toomey says if he can’t find a way to build a bigger building in downtown Palm Harbor, he would be forced to relocate elsewhere – maybe even out of the county.
The Board of Directors for the Old Palm Harbor Main Street and The Greater Palm Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce have voiced support for Toomey’s expansion. However, residents and other businesses owners strongly oppose the county’s plan.
Several residents spoke in support of Toomey and his business plans Feb. 21. And those opposed continued to maintain that their objection is not Toomey or his business. Most just don’t like the idea of TDRs.
Many business owners, such as Eric Weber of Peggy O’Neil’s, says the problem is parking requirements that disadvantage others who also might want to expand their businesses. He said TDRs wouldn’t help.
“Where does that leave retail and restaurants that would like to have the same ability to grow,” he said. “I’d like to see the community grow as a whole.”
Others were concerned that approval of TDRs would make it easier for downtown to become an office park. Most were worried about parking.
Toomey said relocation of his employees into one building instead of six should help free up parking around businesses on the main downtown corridor as his employees could park in the public spaces around Harbor Hall. But those in opposition still feared what the future would hold if TDRs were allowed. Others objected to employees parking in the Harbor Hall lot, saying those spaces were for everybody.
In the end, commissioners agreed to approve the amendments to the downtown master plan and send them on to the Pinellas Planning Council. Additional amendments were made to reduce parking restrictions for other downtown businesses as well.
Staff said they would monitor the use of TDRs in downtown Palm Harbor to check for unintended consequences and suggested that a complete review of the process take place in three to five years.
The use of TDRs would include an application process with public hearings and approvals. All transfers of development rights would be recorded in official county records.