Dunedin OKs downtown apartment-retail complex

DUNEDIN - City commissioners have given their blessing to a large residential development that is expected to transform the eastern side of this city's acclaimed Main Street.The three story complex across the street from Mease Dunedin Hospital will house 124 apartments above first-floor shops and restaurants, a model planners hope will catch on throughout the city's core. Commissioners on Thursday of last week voted to lease a city-owned section of the four-acre plot to developers for just under $1 million, and they approved preliminary site plans for the project. While another vote to finalize the lease and permitting remains, commissioners said they hoped to see the building completed sometime next year, well ahead of schedule."It fits in our community and it fits in that area of town, too, very well," Mayor Dave Eggers said."Great project. Can't wait to see the construction start," said city Commissioner Ron Barnette. Residents who previously raised worries about stress on downtown parking and the prospect of Dunedin losing its small-town charm to larger development did not speak up at Thursday's commission meeting. Commissioners discussed concerns about what would happen if the project's developer, Pizzuti, sold the property before the end of its 25-year-lease with the city.They also considered questions raised by the city's Local Planning Agency about granting Pizzuti a variance on building codes that require a 10-foot setback from the street for each story that's built up.Ultimately the commissioners accepted the developer's argument that the complex, which is divided into three buildings, will have awnings, porches and balconies to break up its flat fašade running along the street. Pizzuti, based in Columbus, Ohio, has invested about $3.3 million in the property since buying part of the land in 2008 and expects the entire project will cost $15 million. City officials expect the complex would generate more than $100,000 per year in property taxes, which would go toward making more improvements downtown.Greg Rice, the city's planning director, said the project offers a template of the medium-density, two- to three-story development that will characterize the future of the downtown core."The gateway project will also be an excellent example of mixed-used development to be emulated in all of the city's redevelopment corridors," Rice told commissioners Thursday. Old-fashioned, single-story storefronts, bungalows and a few town homes typify the popular Main Street area. The city's community redevelopment rules, though, allow for up to four stories in height and 30 units per acre in density, depending on the width of the streets. Rice has said city leaders who wrote those codes envisioned two- and three-story buildings downtown with ground floor retail and residential housing above. That vision stands in stark contrast to the views of residents such as Laura Zahn, who serves as an alternate member of the Local Planning Agency."You can't make something that's three stories quaint; I'm sorry," Zahn said at a meeting last month. "Why are we not trying to make it quaint and fit in with what's down two blocks further into Dunedin where it's all nice single-story properties and little shops?" It's not just the scale that worried Zahn. Once a high-rent apartment and retail complex is introduced, she fears property owners elsewhere in Dunedin will raise their rents or sell to developers, driving out the city's eclectic mix of mom-and-pop shops."What's going to happen is it's going to change the whole dichotomy of the Dunedin downtown core," she said. Developers have insisted their project will extend the boundaries of Dunedin's pedestrian-friendly shopping district. Locally owned restaurants like the Palm Harbor-based Lucky Dill Deli have expressed interest in moving into the ground floor of the proposed building, and Pizzuti representatives say they have tenants lined up for half of the retail space. "For us, we see this really as an extension of the environment that exists on Main Street further to the west," Pizzuti representative Chris Wrenn said at a recent meeting.