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Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014
Business News

Developers take note: Neighborhood groups have a big voice

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Beware all you restaurant, retail and housing developers of Tampa. The neighborhood groups are coming, and they're wearing matching shirts.

Scoff if you will at these ragtag neighborhood associations with their homely newsletters and monthly potlucks. But increasingly, they're sending torpedoes at new projects left and right - from Walmarts to corner bars - and hitting their targets.

In the journalism world, three items suggest a trend, so here they are.

The first incident/victim recently was the world's largest retailer, Walmart, which planned a Neighborhood Market on Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood. Neighbors went ballistic, coordinated their efforts through social media, marched on the roadside at just the right time for the TV cameras, packed county meetings in January in their matching red shirts and persuaded the politicians to vote their way. People involved in the Walmart deal note some expensive irony. The site was zoned for something larger than a Neighborhood Market, and the rezoning was clearing the way for a downsized, rearranged site. Thus, everyone will march off to court, where a judge will decide who has the law on their side.

It's worth noting, Walmart is serious about opening Neighborhood Markets. Last week, one opened in Pinellas Park - just one of 24 opening that day in the country. Twenty-four!

The second incident/victim was the St. John's Episcopal Parish Day School, which is bursting at the seams and wants to expand. Boom! Out came the yard signs, imploring people to "Save Historic Hyde Park." The final chapter isn't written on that project, but in May the school decided to delay plans. Even schools aren't immune.

The third incident/victim was an apartment project in South Tampa. Anthony Everett planned a building on South Howard Avenue with 212 apartments. In a case of timing is everything, his project went to public hearing just as the huge parking garage of another project was going up, the 231-unit Post Soho Square. Neighbors flipped out at the scale of Post Soho and traffic on the cramped South Howard Avenue. Bang! They packed a City Hall meeting in June and city council members voted it down.

Even the smallish Field House restaurant planned for the neighborhood was torpedoed by anxious neighbors. That makes four projects.

I talked about this trend with Ron Weaver, a heavyweight land-use lawyer who has worked on projects in practically every corner of town.

"Every few years, a neighborhood group will have a good six months and be very powerful," he said. "Then a mediocre year, then a bad year, then a good six months." Recently, he said, the groups are gaining strength and flexing their political will.

"Neighbors are feeling emboldened." Weaver expects and hopes a balance emerges, but he also expects developers will have to "work harder to make sure all these concerns are addressed sooner."

Perhaps this is a symptom of Tampa simply gaining density. Though I have a pet theory that something deeper is going on beyond the typical NIMBY (not in my backyard) dynamic.

People have been knocked around pretty well during the downturn, and their sympathy may be running rather low for wealthy developers, and neighbors know the jobs of building or working at a restaurant/condo/store aren't the kind that you can send your kids to college on.

Throw in the boogeyman issues of "parking" or "traffic" or "greenspace" or "preservation" and it's game on.

So, developers take note: However you plan your projects, it's worth approaching civic groups with all due respect. They have matching shirts at the ready.

v vDelve deep enough into the settings of a Verizon FiOS DVR and you may run across this on-screen message: "The Verizon Media Manager is being retired," etc. Thus ends the short life of a valiant project at Verizon. Media Manager could sync photos, videos and lots of other stuff between computers, TVs and other gadgets. (A predecessor to Apple Air Play and Dropbox and other "cloud" stuff.) Alas, Media Manager never really took off, and only 0.5 percent of subscribers used it. But as Media Manager spins down, Verizon has other projects underway, including upgrades to several FiOS apps that already let you watch 75 or so channels in your house, plus on-demand content from lots of channels, including Disney.

v vMeanwhile, there's other Verizon news. The Internet side of the company has this ballistically huge and fast fiber-optic network to millions of homes and continues to ramp up available speeds. Verizon is launching a service at 500 megabits per second download and 100 megs upload. To avoid the techie stats, that's about a zillion times faster than dial-up, but it starts to make sense when research finds the "average" household has seven devices on WiFi: phones, tablets, game consoles and TVs. The speed will cost you. A triple play with phone, TV and Internet starts at $329.99 per month plus fees.

v vTampa, your next Wawa is under construction at Waters Avenue and Benjamin Road - adjacent to the Veterans Expressway, and it comes courtesy of the family that owns Bern's Steak House. The Laxer family owned land there and for years used it to grow veggies for the restaurant. But they have moved farming operations up the road and sold the land to developers for Wawa.

Opening date is before year's end, if not, just after. That makes 10 locations for Wawa either opened or in development in the Tampa region, with a potential for 100 in five years between Tampa and Orlando.

v vThe former Frankie's hot dog bar/restaurant at 909 W. Kennedy Blvd. has completed its transformation to The Outpost Tap House + Tavern. Don't look for hot dogs; instead, the Outpost is a more upscale gastropub, with 40 beers on tap and 100 available. The building renovation added seating inside and outside on a patio.

One signature item is worth trying: the "Beer LT," which is a BLT sandwich dipped in beer batter like French toast and then flash fried. It's $9 with fries and a side.

Owner Mike Diogostine is an alumni of the University of Tampa next door.

He ran staff through training last week and plans a grand opening party this week. See www .outposttampa.com.

rmullins@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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