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Rules can get in way of revitalization


BRADENTON - It's easy to talk about revitalizing urban areas. What's hard, county commissioners were told Tuesday, is actually getting it done within the rules and regulations.

At the County Commission workshop, officials learned how difficult it can be to revitalize the urban core when regulations get in the way of trying to rejuvenate and renovate blighted areas.

Commissioners were told changes in development codes are needed to make urban expansion opportunities more attractive to prospective developers. Often, developers run into so many roadblocks while trying to do a project in a city, they decide to go out into the county where the rules are less onerous and there is more room to build a project.

This leads to more sprawl, and more spreading out into less-used areas, the commissioners were told.

Using a fictitious project on south U.S. 41, representatives of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce described the battles that would have to be fought to get a block reworked.

"Sadly, you will see the frustration that the developer faces in trying to meet the suburban code requirements that are inherent for this project," said Cliff Walters, the presenter of the project.

The block consisted of three parcels:

  • A one-acre convenience store.
  • A four-acre vacant strip mall.
  • A 12-acre vacant parcel with residential zoning, and currently used by homeless people.

Among the challenges the developer faced was that current residents in the neighborhood are worried that a new development would increase traffic in the area. Also, there would be problems assembling the parcels into a lot that can be turned into a viable mixed-use development.

And there was a rather frustrating Catch-22. When it comes to traffic, a developer would have to pay up front before he could get any answers on whether his project would create traffic problems.

Another issue was that building with enough density to make a project pay off would require upgrades to the water and sewer service in the area, commissioners were told, and the developer would have to pay for much of the engineering and design work.

South U.S. 41 and 14th Street West were mentioned as areas in specific need of urban infill and development.

County commissioner Joe McClash said the commission has been aware of the issue. He pointed out that U.S. 41 was a shining example for the area until about 10 years ago.

Among the ideas McClash floated was changing the Community Redevelopment Agency boundary and changing the name of the 14th Street CRA to something like Midtown to make it sound closer to downtown and give it a new image and make it sound more upscale.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore cited the example of the city of Sarasota and its efforts to improve Main Street and make it a desirable destination. "If there was something to go to, people would go," she said.

Commissioner Ron Getman said the commissioners are in support of the end result of a better process, and the county has staff who can make it happen.

Commissioner John Chappie said the changes need to be made so that such urban infill developments can happen and help people.

"We can make these changes and we can do it now," he said.

Commission chairman Gwendolyn Brown said sometimes the rules trap officials. "We know the rules front and back," she said, but it's stepping out of the box that's hard. Right now, "It just makes a very frustrating process," she said. "It can be done. We definitely don't have any time to waste."


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