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Tampa's Condo Plans, DOT Regulations Clash


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Tampa's Condo Plans, DOT Regulations Clash



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TAMPA - Greg Minder, a partner in a group developing a 380-unit high-rise condominium in downtown Tampa, says he was astonished recently when state transportation officials raised red flags about the project.

After all, Minder says, the city had praised the condo proposal as part of its overall plan to transform Tampa's sleepy downtown into a residential and commercial center.

But as Minder and a handful of other residential developers are finding, projects that border state roads must adhere to strict safety regulations. Florida Department of Transportation officials have raised objections about all five city projects it has reviewed. That has resulted in some developers having to rework floor plans, nix balconies and canopies and give up outdoor seating at planned restaurants.

``We can't create the environment we are selling to our buyers,'' said Minder, of Novare-Intown Tampa Development LLC, which is building SkyPoint Condominiums. ``[DOT] keeps pointing to the common good and public safety. But I don't think we want our downtown streets to look and function like the interstate.''

SkyPoint is bordered by Ashley Drive and Zack and Tampa streets. Because Tampa Street is a state road, DOT gets to review the plans.

SkyPoint is one of the first high-rise residential complexes prepping for construction in the central business district. DOT officials demanded it delete the two-story canopies and balconies it planned for Tampa Street. It also would not permit outdoor cafes on a state road.

City Considers Options

Mayor Pam Iorio, whose administration has put an emphasis on revitalizing downtown, has intervened to discuss possible solutions. She said she was concerned other developers will be deterred from building downtown. An April 22 meeting is planned to hammer out a compromise.

``Here we are, finally getting the residential development we have wanted for a long, long time, and these state regulations are strict and hurtful to these developers,'' Iorio said. ``What's wrong with balconies and cafes? Great cities have them.''

The state transportation department is all for a bustling downtown neighborhood, said Dwayne Kile, DOT's Tampa district design engineer. But some of the developers' plans violate DOT safety and liability laws.

For example, he said, balconies and sidewalk tables can't extend into the public right of way of a state road, and the sidewalk is considered part of that right of way. ``A public facility can't be used for private benefit,'' Kile said. ``It's like [developers] are getting property for free.''

Problems have arisen, Kile said, because developers haven't done their homework before they plan a project near a state road.

Most developers, Kile said, are used to building on city and county roadways, where the building guidelines aren't as strict and government agencies evaluate each proposal on a case-by case basis.

The state and city have different philosophies on downtown roads. The state's mission is to get traffic through downtown to the interstate quickly, while the city wants to slow traffic so that downtown becomes more of a destination.

The solution the city plans to pitch to state officials could be costly, although officials don't have estimates yet. The city is proposing taking over right of way responsibilities on state sidewalks, said Dave Parkinson, the city's deputy director for redevelopment. That way, he said, if someone were to get hurt on the sidewalk, the state wouldn't be liable.

The Tampa Downtown Partnership, which tracks residential plans, says 27 new housing developments are planned or proposed in and around downtown and the Channel District.

Five of those are adjacent to state-controlled roadways. The state has jurisdiction over four downtown streets - Jackson Street, Kennedy Boulevard, Florida Avenue and Nebraska Avenue - and part of Tampa Street and Ashley Drive.

Of the five projects the state must sign off on, all have had to adjust their plans to meet state transportation department demands. Some are still negotiating, officials said.

Ken Stoltenberg is the developer of Grand Central at Kennedy, a 14-story condo complex. Original plans called for some balconies to extend up to to 2 feet out from the building. But the state said they were too far in the public right of way. Instead of fighting DOT and delaying his construction schedule, Stoltenberg said, he chose to follow the agency's demands.

Minder, the SkyPoint developer, said to move the project forward on time he plans to abide by DOT's requirements, while hoping the mayor can negotiate some solutions.

In addition to balconies and cafes, Minder said, DOT doesn't like the blue plywood fence around the construction site. The developer wants to keep it because it's decorated with swanky advertising signs. But the state has cited safety concerns and wants it replaced with a concrete barricade, similar to ones found around construction on interstates.

Maria Castro, owner of the Spain Restaurant on Tampa Street, said her family has tried for a year to get DOT to approve plans for six loft apartments above the restaurant. Debate, Castro said, has centered on a fire escape that would hang over the sidewalk, which DOT considers part of its right of way.

Other Cities Have Faced Issue

Tampa isn't the only city to grapple with state transportation officials having a say in new development, but it is generally considered to have more state roads in the downtown area than most other Florida cities.

Orlando, for example, has just one state road downtown, Orange Avenue. About 20 years ago, the city assumed responsibility of maintenance on the road, relieving the state of liability.

The change has paid off, said Orlando City Planner Jason Burton. There are more than a dozen high-rise condominiums planned for Orlando's downtown and Orange Avenue is dotted with restaurants and cafes. DOT might have raised objections if it had to sign off on development plans.

``Traffic engineers aren't good urban planners for downtown,'' Burton said.

In 2000, the city of Lakeland decided to convert its two one- way downtown state roads to two-way, in an effort to slow traffic. DOT objected, and the city ended up taking over the maintenance of the roads. It spent $325,000 on the conversion, but merchants see more drop-in traffic now, said Rick Lilyquist, Lakeland's director of public works.

``Sometimes you have to do what is best for the city overall,'' Lilyquist said. ``Even if it means the city has to take on more responsibility.''

Reporter Shannon Behnken can be reached at (813) 259-7804.

This story can be found at:


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I saw this too, and had pretty much the same thoughts: WTF?

So this morning driving to work down Tampa St. I thought I'd take a look at what else might be intruding on the state's right of way. I mean, as long as we're hindering development let's take the state at their word and really fix it up right.

For starters, there are all those trees on Tampa St., out in front of the Residence Inn and then on down the road. There's a bench in front of the Gold Bank building, and newspaper vending machines across the street. Park Tower has a row of enormous concrete planters on the sidewalk. And the city has installed parking meters all along the road!

So, this begs the question:

Is the state collecting the money from those meters? Did the state plant the trees? Did the state approve those planters? And how does the state feel about that taxi-stand out in front of the hotel there south of Kennedy?

I wouldn't wish the state to make changes to any of those things, and if you ask me this is a clear case of the DOT sticking their grubby little fingers in where they don't belong.

I'd like to see an accounting of exactly how much money the state spends on Tampa St. upkeep. Is it really a state-supported road? When the city repaved it last year, how much state money was involved?

And, if all this turns out to be for naught, couldn't the developers just turn the building around and put the cafe on Ashley St? That would be sort of like mooning the state transportation department.

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Mayor Pushes Development To DOT


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TAMPA - Mayor Pam Iorio, insistent on seeing downtown filled with high-rise condominiums and people sipping lattes at sidewalk cafes, pleaded her case Friday to state transportation officials standing in the way of her plan.

Citing safety concerns, the state Department of Transportation has rejected some condominium developers' plans to include balconies, canopies and outdoor seating at restaurants.

At the end of the two-hour meeting, the sides emerged with a compromise.

* Street cafes will be allowed, as long as there is a 4-foot clearance between tables and obstacles such as parking meters and trees.

* Canopies will be allowed, as long as they are fastened to the building from above and not anchored to the sidewalk.

* The DOT will establish a three-member committee to work with downtown residential developers on their projects on a case-by-case basis.

One issue not resolved is balconies. The city and developers want them on some units. Transportation officials object because they hang over state-managed sidewalks, although negotiations continue on this and other issues.

``I think it is going to work out,'' Iorio said after the meeting. DOT ``wants the same thing we do - the redevelopment of downtown.''

Twenty-seven residential complexes are planned or under construction in and around downtown.

Five of those are located next to state-controlled roadways. DOT has jurisdiction over four downtown streets - Jackson Street, Kennedy Boulevard, Florida Avenue and Nebraska Avenue - and part of Tampa Street and Ashley Drive.

Reporter Shannon Behnken can be reached at (813) 259-7804

This story can be found at: http://tampatrib.com/businessnews/MGB8WS3617E.html

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