TARPON SPRINGS — The city’s longstanding downtown parking problems led a group of Tarpon Avenue business and property owners to ask the city to rethink the site plan approval for the COhatch redevelopment project.
A few weeks ago, COhatch developers were granted City Commission approval to create shared meeting and work spaces, along with a restaurant, in the historic district’s oldest building at 121 E. Tarpon Ave., last known as The Zone Lounge. The developer also plans to add an addition to the back of the current building.
Even though local businesspeople asserted they welcome the new enterprise to Tarpon Avenue, they asked city commissioners to reconsider their site plan approval to emphasize the lack of and need for downtown parking.
City Attorney Andrew J. Salzman advised commissioners that their earlier decision could only be overturned if they determined it was based on new evidence, not considered earlier, or a factual mistake.
City Manager Mark LeCouris told commissioners “while a rehearing is not warranted, we understand there are many issues within the business community about parking in general. There are already plans for a parking study and further community engagement on this issue. This can be further talked about after the decision on the rehearing and will definitely be addressed at future BOC meetings.”
Eventually the request to rehear the issue failed for lack of a motion.
Ambiance Hair Salon owner Themelina Makris Fose, speaking on behalf of local businesses, emphasized the parking problems merchants face downtown. Adding contractors working on the building for several months, and subsequently the addition of COHatch patrons, will only add to the parking congestion, she said.
She suggested the commission’s decision to grant site plan approval was based on incomplete and faulty evidence, such as a flawed stormwater and parking analysis.
Planning Director Renea Vincent said staff disagrees with the allegations.
Mayor Costa Vatikiotis noted most if not all those who spoke in favor of a rehearing really just wanted the city to address the lack of parking downtown. He noted he would like more downtown property owners and business people to help the city by suggesting ways the city could improve parking.
Vatikiotis said the city is addressing the lack of parking downtown. A request for proposals is being created for a parking study. Other items that could be considered, if there was support, include imposing a moratorium on expansion downtown, even seat and table capacity, until the parking problem is addressed. The city’s Special Area Plan could be revised to require building owners that increase occupancy to add parking. There could be timed parking in certain areas.
The vacant lot on Tarpon Avenue, called the Forbes property, could be used for downtown parking and a parking garage could be constructed, if the city acquired a Lemon Street building through eminent domain, the mayor suggested.
These are concepts to be discussed, no decision has been made, the mayor said.
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