published: Sunday, June 23, 2013
Zoning changes discussed
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- For years, city officials, merchants and business owners have fought to save downtown. Often it has seemed a hopeless battle. No sooner would a new place open than one only weeks older would close.
Between the explosion of growth along U.S. 27 and the recession, downtown Sebring wilted. Empty windows surrounded Circle Park for so long, many individuals felt a sense of futility.
But not everyone gave up.
In its continuing effort to re-energize the core of downtown, the Sebring Community Redevelopment Agency is proposing a long-term solution modeled on successful revitalizations in other cities such as Mount Dora or Winter Park.
The idea is to attract new residents and businesses downtown by changing zoning along Lakeview Drive between the Kenilworth Lodge and the new Centennial Park, south and north Ridgewood Drive, Circle Park, the spoke streets and parts of Washington Heights.
Jim Polatty, planning and zoning director, said at a meeting on Thursday at the Jack Stroup Civic Center that the goal is to encourage mixed use of downtown. New businesses are important, but to thrive the downtown area needs more residents as well. The one stimulates the other, he said. The more people downtown, the more businesses will be attracted to the area and the livelier downtown, the more people will come.
This is why the new codes encourage compact, mixed use -- restaurants, shops and offices on the first floor, apartments on the second -- to encourage pedestrian traffic.
City Councilman Scott Stanley; Meredith Keiber, chairperson of the city's Planning & Zoning Board; Bob Hoffman, assistant city administrator; and Polatty, explained the proposed changes and answered resident questions Thursday night.
The first thing Polatty told his audience is the city wants citizen input regarding the new zoning plan. Public hearings are planned. The CRA has a meeting on July 8, and the P&Z board on July 9.
The second thing Polatty said is that the new zoning is part of a plan begun in 2010. It will not create changes overnight. "This is not for tomorrow," he said. Lasting change will be years down the road.
The new plan has an easier-to-understand zoning code and makes it simpler for developers to invest in downtown.
The vision is to turn Lakeview Drive into a city gateway beginning at the Kenilworth Lodge. Properties on the east side of the street past the hotel already are zoned mixed use, meaning houses and offices together. What's different is the higher population density of 20 dwelling units per acre to encourage townhouse construction. Vehicle access to the new housing and offices will only be from Franklin Street.
By the new Centennial Park, where Lakeview Drive becomes South Ridgewood Drive, zoning changes again, all the way up North Ridgewood to the blinking light where the road becomes State Road 17.
The goal is to turn Ridgewood Drive, both north and south, and spoke streets off the Circle into a central business, mixed-use district.
Creating jobs is another goal, so some areas, for example between Park Street and Pomegranate Avenue, are designated industrial, including minimum and significant impact, which means equipment and supplies may be stored outside.
Several areas will continue to be zoned for single family homes only, like the tree and flower named streets east of Firemen's Field.
Most people simply listened Thursday during the meeting, but some came with concerns.
The most controversial issue at the moment is the city's plan to remove auto repair shops and gas stations from Ridgewood Drive. There are at least four businesses affected.
John Malinowski, who owns the independent vehicle service and gas station on the corner of Sebring Parkway and Ridgewood, was upset. For one thing he didn't think anyone had the right to tell him what to do with his property and long standing business.
"You say get rid of repair shops and gas stations, let's shut them out. Use your heads. Don't pick on any one group," he said.
(by: Blindman~ - 6/25/2013)
The only way the gas stations or repair shop should be removed is to be bought-out from the market. The stations are part of Sebring's heritage. Only the market should play a role in their removal, not government. That's going way too far.
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