Downtown Dunedin apartment complex gets initial approval

DUNEDIN - A proposed apartment complex at downtown Dunedin's eastern gateway could mark the start of bigger things for this small Main Street community.

At three stories high, the three apartment buildings set over retail would be among the tallest in a collection of one-story shops and old bungalows that fill out the city's core.

With 124 apartments, it would be the largest residential development in town and the first built since the recession.

Its 24,000 square feet of commercial space on the bottom floor would extend Dunedin's pedestrian-friendly Main Street eastward and boost foot traffic for shops throughout the city.

City planners and many residents say it's high time for this four-acre lot across from Mease Dunedin Hospital to be developed after years of serving as an empty field for event parking.

Some residents, though, fear an infusion of renters and retailers will clog downtown's narrow streets, stress its limited parking and begin to move the city too far from its small town roots.

"We've had this empty field here for five or six years and this is a big anchor to establishing the other end of our downtown," said Greg Rice, the city's director of planning and development.

Rice and a representative of the site's developer, Columbus, Ohio-based development company Pizzuti, made that case to Dunedin's citizen-led Local Planning Agency.

At a meeting last Wednesday, questions came out about parking for the influx of shoppers, the height of one of the buildings compared with adjacent two-story townhouses and the retail viability of the $15 million project.

The agency, however, voted unanimously to approve the preliminary plan, which will be vetted by city commissioners and reworked before developers seek final approval.

Gregory Brady, chair of Dunedin's Community Redevelopment Agency board, said the city has been too reticent in the past about allowing good development to move forward.

"We need to fill these empty lots with development that brings taxes to the city and stop making people jump through hoop after hoop after hoop after hoop," said Brady, a Dunedin businessman.

City officials project the complex would generate more than $100,000 per year in property taxes, which would go toward making more improvements downtown as part of its redevelopment area.

Rice said the city's long-term plans envision more two and three-story developments with apartments above retail in empty lots or aging one-story buildings.

Marjorie Sherman, manager of the Richard's Foodporium store at 660 Main St., said the gateway development will surely create more foot traffic for her organic grocery store, which abuts the vacant lot.

Others, like Morris Hensley, co-owner of McGuire's Old Fashion Barber Shop, at 553 Main St., say building upward in Dunedin's core would diminish the small town charm of its one-story shops.

"By increasing the population downtown, we could double, maybe triple, our business here, but I don't want them living on top of my roof here," Hensley said.