Plans moving ahead for downtown Palm Harbor improvements

The Planning Department is considering the use of “form base code” to distinguish the historic character of downtown Palm Harbor.

CLEARWATER — The final draft of a new Downtown Historic Palm Harbor Master Plan is finished, and County Planning staff is continuing to work with the community to address its needs.

Rebecca Stonefield, principal planner, updated the County Commission on Jan. 22 on the work that had been done since the fall of 2016 toward developing a master plan to replace the one put into place in 2001.

She said most of the projects in the original plan had been implemented, which incorporated street improvements and amenities, as well as updates to the land development code. However, some projects are not completed, such as a pedestrian crossing and outdoor event spaces.

Since Planning staff held initial focus group meetings with stakeholders in 2016, community-wide meetings took place in the winter of 2017 and online surveys were made available from December 2016 through March 2017.

Using information from the meetings and results from the online surveys, 10 key recommendations were identified. Staff did follow-up studies and analysis and used that information to complete a draft master plan update.

Stonefield said the key recommendations were divided into three categories: character/identity, connectivity and branding/marketing.

In the character/identity category, residents indicated they wanted to enhance the pedestrian experience with better lighting in the downtown area, bike racks, benches and landscaping.

They also want to improve opportunities for boutique-style retail. Stonefield said Planning staff was looking at zoning to make that more feasible. Residents also would like a gateway to better identify the downtown area.

Historic guidelines were on the list, as was creation of more outdoor open space to create a more family-friendly environment. Staff is looking for ways to create open space for activities. Possibilities include expanding programs at Pop Stansell Park and maybe even purchasing property.

Proposals to improve connectivity include looking at gaps in the sidewalks network. There is interest in allowing golf carts in the downtown area. Stonefield said a petition would be circulated to gauge that interest.

Some are concerned about parking, especially on 11th Street and Nebraska Avenue Monday-Saturday from 5-9 p.m. She said Planning staff had conducted studies and found that parking was available within a 1-2 minute walk. Staff is working on a map that shows available spaces and other plans to improve parking during peak times.

Plans to improve the safety of crossing at Alt. 19 remain on the table. Florida Department of Transportation held public workshops in 2015 to talk about intersection improvements. Stonefield said the consensus favored a roundabout.

Several ideas are in the works for the branding/marketing category including more publicity about downtown events. Other possibilities include producing a community newsletter and improving the area’s online presence with social media.

Stonefield talked about “implementation tools,” including regulations, funding and an advisory group. She said staff was looking at using “form base code” to distinguish the area’s historic character using building form and placement.

Funding ideas consist of tax increment funding, which is typically tied to a community redevelopment area, or use of a municipal service benefit unit, which is a non-ad valorem assessment that direct funds to identified needs, such as recreation services, facilities, streets, sidewalks, transportation or lighting.

Use of Penny for Pinellas funds, creating a lighting district, which also involves a non-ad valorem assessment, and money from the General Fund also are among the possibilities.

Staff has several ideas for “organizational tools” needed to help implement the plan, such as creating a main street program, business improvement district, community development corporation or a community redevelopment area. A CRA must meet state and local blight criteria.

Stonefield said a public hearing would be scheduled this spring to talk about the final draft master plan.

“I’m really excited we’re moving this along,” said Commissioner Dave Eggers, who represents residents in the Palm Harbor area.

He said people in the area didn’t want to be in a city but they did want to make improvements. He pointed out that downtown Palm Harbor was one of the oldest downtowns in the county.

He encouraged Planning staff to look for ways to motivate and excite the community. He suggested using a local group and “letting people know something is really going to happen.”

“We need a funding source — public and private,” he said. “We need family involvement.”

Commission Chair Karen Seel encouraged businesses and residents to get together and to look at Dunedin as a model.

Eggers pointed out that Dunedin was a city and it has a CRA. He said he wasn’t sure if a CRA was right for Palm Harbor, which is located in unincorporated Pinellas.

“We’ve got to find a mechanism to make it real,” he said.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.