Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Plan targets river area

PALMETTO - Residents got their first glimpse at a consultant's plan to guide the redevelopment of about 230 acres of the city's downtown.

Highlights of the plan include updated land policies, improved road systems and the introduction of mixed-use developments.

The plan concentrates on the area between 10th Avenue West/Old Main Street and Estuary Park south of Seventh Street West. A diverse portion of Palmetto, the area includes parks, housing of various degrees, Palmetto Elementary School and Riverside Plaza.

With development cruising at a steady pace in Palmetto, city and downtown officials sought a consultant's hand to make sure existing residents have a say in what happens around them through 2025.

As city Commissioner Eric Ball put it, the goal is to make Palmetto's waterfront available to everyone.

Mayor Larry Bustle agreed. He lauded the plan and the turnout of more than 60 residents Tuesday night at City Hall, many of whom asked questions or provided input.

"I think we have the beginnings of a great plan," Bustle said. "We can't stop the bear (development) but we can hold him by the tail. I think this plan will help steer the bear the way we want to."

The consulting firm Wallace Roberts & Todd, commissioned by the Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency to create the $145,570 master plan, intends to take the input gathered Tuesday and return in a few months with updates.

The master plan includes turning Old Main Street into a destination by encouraging mixed-use developments where retail or restaurants take up bottom floors and apartments occupy upper floors of facilities; building up the waterfront edge with activities; creating a pedestrian-friendly environment to get people walking to the river instead of driving; and strengthening the area's neighborhoods.

The plan needs help at the city level. For example, mixed-use developments would not be allowed on Old Main Street under current land codes. But from this master plan, the Palmetto CRA expects to propose land use changes to city commissioners sometime in the near future.

Other suggestions include more boat ramps, more parking and a direct street connection from Riviera Dunes to Riverside Plaza. But no high-rise buildings.
Dennis Bradford, one of the Dunes developers, said the best way to get affordable housing on the waterfront is with a tall building or two.
But John Fernsler, a principal with Wallace Roberts & Todd, said the community doesn't want it.

That's good news to many residents. "Quite frankly, the skyline is prettier without them," said Pam Cain, who owns a duplex in Jet Mobile Home Park. "That's what a lot of us in the park are concerned about."

The master plan suggests that future development may prompt homeowners in Jet Park to sell their property and that the city should strive to keep the area open for affordable housing, but the plan did not suggest that city or redevelopment district officials buy the park. Several concerned Jet Park residents asked the city if it planned to use eminent domain to grab up their land.

Both Ball and Scott Maloney, chairman of the redevelopment district, said there are no plans to buy Jet Park. Maloney said he doubts an eminent domain grab of Jet Park would stand up in court.

Fernsler said the preliminary master plan presented Tuesday "reflects what people told (consultants) they want the waterfront to look like. "It wants the best of the old and new," he said. "It maintains the character of the neighborhoods and enlivens the waterfront with new activities."

Tim W. McCann, Bradenton and Palmetto city government reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2620, or at twmccann@heraldtoday.com.

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