The last of the public neighborhood meetings to address the fate of the Old Florida District took place on this past Wednesday, June 8th. There have been four meetings to address this very important issue and the public has shown great participation. At the first meeting there were 108 people, at the second 70 attended, 56 attended the third and about the same amount attended the fourth. However, although many hours of the public and the City's time have been spent getting and receiving feedback the fate of the Old Florida District is still not yet sealed.
According to city planners these meetings were meant to see what the public wants in the Old Florida District and hope that their wants and needs can intertwine with the City. Michael Delk, planning director, opened the meeting with a quick intro, and then handed it over to Sharen Jarzen, planner III, who gave a presentation addressing the results of the third public meeting.
In that meeting the public made clear that they really wanted to keep commercial businesses on Mandalay Avenue, and another huge concern was to prevent a "canyon effect", which is when the buildings are too large and the setbacks too small and it feels like you are in a "canyon" walking down the street. Parking and FEMA heights were also mentioned as well as upgrading the present development in the area.
At the previous meeting there were three use plans and three height plans that were presented, and based on the number of dots that people placed on their favorites at the last meeting the six plans were narrowed down to one use plan and two height plans to be presented before the city council. The use plan included multi-family and overnight accommodations and public space along both the gulf and bay coasts, and mixed use (1st floor retail/office with residential above) and a parking garage along Mandalay Avenue. The height options presented two different scenarios: option 1 calls for 50 ft. height requirement on the gulf side of the district and 75 ft. height requirement on Mandalay Ave. everything east of it; option 2 calls for a 35 ft. height along Bay Esplanade and Somerset St., a 50 ft. height along the inside streets of Cyprus Ave. and Poinsettia Ave., and 60 ft. height requirement along Mandalay Ave. and the gulf side of the district.
Jim Graham, president of Graham Design Associates P.A., followed Jarzen's presentation to present a lengthy PowerPoint outlining the options and showing possible plans of what the final outcome would be. He made extra effort with the Old Florida District to present plans that were not too closed in and that exuded more of a vista look rather than a wall of concrete. Fifteen feet setbacks for all new buildings as well as step backs for any building over thirty-five feet in height were both vital components of making this vista look possible. Graham also presented some three dimensional drawings that including streetscapes to make the district look prettier and more unique. While some applauded the plans that Graham presented there were still many concerns from the crowd.
Anne Garris was the first to address the issue of landscaping, questioning that no lush landscape was included in any of the plans presented that night. Other fiery concerns were height, density, and the fear of combining many lots so that the small property owners would be shut out. Many people stood up and spoke quite passionately about the issues, but the only answers anyone really got from the city planners was the these were just concepts and that they did not know exactly what the final outcome would look like. Michael Delk was open with the simple fact that "not everyone will be happy," and City Manager Bill Horne stated that the "ultimate decision will be in the best overall interest of the community."
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