Midtown's on shaky ground

Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 10:48 p.m.

In an article describing the Development Review Board's decision to preliminarily approve the Midtown development, I was quoted as saying that I cast a vote of "no" because I felt that something so large a scale was not needed downtown.

This was based on my observation that there are currently many available rentals both downtown and around the fringes of the University of Florida.

The premise that we need to construct new and larger apartments based on a great influx of students over the next decade is built on a shaky foundation.

The UF Office of Institutional Research Web site shows "Projected Headcount Enrollment" to increase only by 315 students between 2003 and 2010.

Let's imagine, for a moment, that all 26 floors of the tower designated for graduate students is filled. Will that result in existing apartments left empty?

Will other investors be able to compete with this mega apartment and build in this downtown corridor? Does that promote urban infill?

Despite my personal reservations, my vote was based on compliance with the city comprehensive plan. The recently approved comp plan, in its land-use element, includes in Objective 4.2, implementing regulations to "protect low-intensity uses from the negative impacts of high-intensity uses," and describes compatibility of building scale with surrounding areas and providing transitional measures between them.

The special area plan in the land development code for this "traditional city" area where "Midtown" would be located was established to set the tone for this important area when it is revitalized.

It describes lovely, tree-lined streets with shops, residences and offices on pedestrian-friendly streets. It calls for "improving the environment for business, including smaller, locally owned businesses, pleasant, people-scaled features," and as an "incubator for new, entrepreneurial, locally owned businesses and entry-level job opportunities."

Do we abide by the city comprehensive plan that was so carefully worded after many, many hours of input by citizens, staff and commissioners? Or do we jump at the first offers, fearful that there may not be other developers who come forward that more closely fit the picture created in our comp plan?

It's time for the City Commission to engage the public in a discussion of the vision they have for our city. Ask them to explain what they see and accept citizen input about possible height and density restrictions.

I urge you to contact your commissioners to request that this be put on the agenda as soon as possible.

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