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Village of the Arts boundary expansion scheduled for end of June

BRADENTON -- It's taken years to fine tune the needs of those living and working within the Village of the Arts to ensure optimal success of transforming a once troubled neighborhood into one of Southwest Florida's most unique hubs of resident artists and professionals.

Part of that assurance to give the village the "arts district" atmosphere it strives to achieve is to expand its boundaries. That may come to fruition with a timetable presented by Bradenton Planning and Community Director Tim Polk at a town hall-style meeting Thursday night at the Bradenton Police Department substation on 14th Street West.

Polk said the expansion will undergo final staff review April 28 before going to the planning commission May 20. It will come up for vote at the June 24 city council meeting.

The Village of the Arts is an overlay district, meaning it receives a more-lenient set of regulations in how it can be used as a live-work environment. For quite some time, the expansion proposal was to extend the village to the east side of 14th Street West with a northern expansion to Ninth Avenue West. The idea of the expansion was to capture two primary traffic corridors to help drive traffic into the village.

Many were surprised Thursday when a new proposal was offered to extend the expansion farther to the west to include businesses and residents on the other side of 14th Street West and more than a block farther west between 12th and 14th avenues west to 15th Street West.

Polk said the idea was to further encapsulate the village as a district and to allow additional signage on both sides of 14th Street West.

There was some initial opposition from some within the proposed expansion boundaries, until it became clear that it would not affect their property in becoming part of the village and actually gives them more leeway under overlay district

ordinances.

About 25 people attended Thursday's special meeting where village residents did express concern over the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority's pending request for qualifications to develop the old Manatee Inns site on 14th Street West, since the property will be encompassed in the expansion boundaries.

Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff is the city council representative on a selection committee that will accept and review developer qualifications for that RFQ.

"No way is this going to be a secret operation," said Roff, who noted it won't be a short process and will undergo a full, public vetting process. "I already said I don't want to rush anything right now. I'm more concerned on getting it done right rather than getting it done quickly."

Public Works Director Claude Tankersley said the job of the committee, hand-picked by the DDA board, will simply be to review developers who are qualified to do the job.

"The selection committee is not going to make a selection," he said. "They are only going to review the documents and make a recommendation of a list of proposers who seem to be the most qualified. All they are looking for is for qualifications, not an actual product. That's why the DDA board wanted folks who understand what to look for."

Realize Bradenton Executive Director Johnette Isham said it's public funds that supports what takes place in the village and it's important to have something there that will help increase tax revenue. But more importantly, as a member of the selection committee, Isham said, "I represent the heart and soul of the Village of the Arts Tapestry Project and will make sure that's represented."

In other matters, Tankersley said the lighting project, consisting of putting in more than 140 new street lights, is going forward and that the city has found additional funding to do the entire project this fiscal year rather than splitting it up into two projects.

Plans also remain to continue to improve stormwater drainage in the village, water distribution and eventual street paving within the next five years.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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