By Jane Northrop
The Sharp Park Specific Plan is under review with more community input opportunities available next month. The City Council will review it in September. After that, a draft will be prepared for community feedback later this year. A final draft is expected to be adopted next year.
The Planning Commission reviewed the plan and made recommendations to the City Council.
The five focus areas are land use and development, urban design and character, access connectivity and parking, infrastructure and environmental resources and hazards.
The land use concept will develop critical mass, an active ground floor, support great places through architectural character and place making, improve connectivity through wide sidewalks and connections to points of interest. Parking strategies and bike and pedestrian connectivity will be included.
Senior Planner Christian Murdock asked the commissioners about their preference for a mixed use center or mixed use neighborhood designation in the area, based on feedback from community meetings.
Mixed use center would allow more height.
“The greater building heights that some development would need to achieve more housing density and commercial square footage led to concerns about losing the small-scale character of the Sharp Park area as well as concerns about parking. There was also a lack of consensus on where investment should be focused for bicycle and pedestrian connection improvements to improve connectivity in an east-west direction,” he said.
An online survey of 350 respondents Murdock presented showed more than half supported the mixed use center designation for southern Palmetto Avenue. Conversely, the largest response supported maintaining mixed use neighborhood for all of Palmetto Avenue. More than half supported heights above 35 feet for north Palmetto, south Palmetto, 2212 Beach Blvd. and Eureka Square. No one street gained favor as a connection street.
Director of Planning Tina Wehrmeister said the owners of Eureka Square have said they are not interested in putting housing above the shopping center, as community comments raised.
The Planning Commission concluded a mixed use center designation should be applied to southern Palmetto Avenue, with a cut off at San Jose Avenue. Heights of up to 45-55 feet would be allowed. Incentives for affordable housing would be created.
Mixed use neighborhood would be the designation for north Palmetto, with heights no greater than 35 feet to allow for the existing small cottage feel for the neighborhood.
They agreed San Jose Avenue and Clarendon Road would be the roads prioritized for bike and pedestrian access.
“Affordability is very important,” said Commission Chair John Nibbelin. “I want it to be one of the guiding principles.”
Murdock replied it is on many levels.
“The sites seem to be very small, so we can ratchet up density. We are seeing the luxury level, but we could achieve more of these policies. We need to explore ways it could be attractive.”
Commissioner Tygarjas Twyls Bigstyck said mixed use center is his favorite.
“I like the idea that the numbers get high with added density. I’m interested in affordable housing. Forty five feet is a more pleasant balance, no more than that on the north side. Put in that we are a sustainable community. Plant trees,” he said.
Commissioner Lauren Berman said she’d like to keep the building height at 35 feet for the north part of Palmetto. In the south, she’d be open to 45-55 feet. She likes the idea of developer flexibility.
“North Palmetto should be the beach cottage feel, restricting zoning to 35 feet maximum, but promote more housing. It can be taller in south Palmetto,” she said.
Mixed use neighborhood would allow seven houses over three acres; mixed use center would get 14 houses, said Alison Moore of Dyett and Bhatia.
Commissioner Samantha Hauser said undergrounding utilities should be a guideline. North Palmetto should be a mixed use neighborhood; south Palmetto mixed use center.
“There is no mention of planting. We should include more street trees. Office spaces should be encouraged for the second and third floors. Promote a variety of housing types. We care about affordable housing for all income levels. We need to think in terms of stores and commercial that is vibrant if our goal is 45 feet in south Palmetto. That will allow flexibility,” she said.
Nibbelin said he was in favor of a 55 foot height everywhere.
“Create incentives for affordable housing,” he said. “We are being very streamlined, making development entitled. I do want to create as many discretionary projects as possible.”
Moore said, “Palmetto Avenue will be a new main street with housing and historic areas preserved.”
Several speakers addressed the Planning Commission.
Tom Thompson said investment is key to the success of the plan.
“Investors would wait until the city is committed to solving the seawall problem,” he said.
Cindy Abbott said she was very concerned about the proposed density and height for south Palmetto Avenue as a “mixed use center.”
“Parking is inadequate. It’s not there at all. Why are we losing the general character of Sharp Park? This needs to be a ‘mixed use neighborhood.’ A business is more important than allowing more housing. It is not about four and five story buildings,” she said.
A.D. Hernandez said traffic and bike safety needs to be clarified.
Suzanne Drake agreed with the comments of Tom Thompson and asked if neighborhood residents will be issued parking permits.
Curt Kiest asked for more feedback from developers.
“We need to know what they say. If the developers say it’s about the seawall, this will guide our discussion. Then we can choose what works for us. We’ve had a 35 foot height limit since 1989. What’s limiting developers?” he asked.
The seawall is already in the design phase with the armoring as called for in the city’s local coastal plan, said Associate Planner Bonny O’Connor.
This plan will move development much faster, said Raj Battia of Dyett and Battia.
“Then we can implement a financing mechanism to improve infrastructure and bike lanes,” said Murdock.
(Jane Northrop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)