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Chamber panel promotes urban renewal

BRADENTON — Codes need to be changed to encourage redevelopment of the urban areas in Manatee County, a Manatee Chamber of Commerce task force said Tuesday.

In a slide show presentation to the Manatee County Commission, the Chamber panel used the example of a fictitious area along U.S. 41 to demonstrate the difficulty developers have in urban infill and redevelopment in that business corridor.

Local attorney Cliff Walters opened the discussion by giving an example of how county rules and regulations impede development in the urban core.

Walters said Saint Stephen’s School bought a run-down shopping center and asked a local builder to construct its new school.

After several attempts to get approval from the county, the contractor told the school it could not be done.

Saint Stephen’s leaders annexed into the city of Bradenton, which is better equipped for urban redevelopment, and the project was completed.

Walters said cities are more equipped to deal with urban-type planning, whereas counties are more oriented toward suburban development.

Mary Davis Wallace, a planner with ZNS Engineering, said urban infill and redevelopment “are the answer to struggling economies and suburban sprawl.”

Wallace said infill and redevelopment uses existing infrastructure, rejuvenates blighted areas, promotes green practices, and has an economic benefit.

Local private planners Betsy Benac and Tom McCollum and attorney Caleb Grimes also participated in the presentation, outlining what the problems are for potential developers and what they say are the solutions.

They promoted higher density and intensity of use in some areas along the urban core corridor.

Traffic and parking regulations need to be reconsidered, as well as the county’s requirement for developers to pay for hooking into the water and sewer infrastructure.

The first step the county would need to take, the task force suggested, was to write a comprehensive plan amendment that deals with urban redevelopment, as well as land development codes that implement the comprehensive plan amendment.

The task force said with changes in the rules they are promoting, the county will see development of urban areas with mixed use, such as retail stores on the street level, and housing units above them.

They showed slides of people sitting at outdoor cafes and walking down landscaped sidewalks lined with banner-festooned lamp posts past shops and cinemas to illustrate the possibilities.

Commissioner Joe McClash said the issues presented have been discussed, but that any changes need to start with citizen input.

He also suggested that merging the two county Community Redevelopment Agencies and redefining their boundaries would help in accomplishing what developers want.

Commissioner Ron Getman, who asked county staff to look into the U.S. 41 redevelopment more than two years ago, said he understood that developers are looking for “speed, consistency and certainty” from the county rules.

But he said all the things residents want the county to do cannot be met because residents also want lower property taxes.

In the end, the commissioners came to a consensus to look into merging the two CRA districts and extending their boundaries, as well as having county staff draft a comprehensive amendment for the commission’s review to accomplish the task forces’ ideas.