By B.C. Manion
City manager Jim Drumm can easily picture multi-story buildings with commercial uses on the bottom floors and residences upstairs when he envisions the future of Zephyrhills.
And, now that the Florida Department of Transportation has decided how to proceed with improvements to US 301, the city can begin charting its course for future development, Drumm said.
City officials and state transportation planners had battled for years about the best way to improve US 301, also known as Gall Boulevard in Zephyrhills.
The state had been considering an option that would have widened US 301and converted it into a one-way road through the city.
Local officials, business leaders and residents fought that idea, saying that turning US 301 into a one-way road would kill businesses in the commercial corridor. Instead, they pushed for a plan that keeps it as a two-way street and shifts highway traffic onto a pair of one-way roads running parallel to the highway.
While the state has agreed to the city’s vision, work on the highway project isn’t expected to begin any time soon.
Meanwhile, the city can start setting the stage for more urban-scale development in the highway commercial district, Drumm said.
“Our goal in the next few years is to meet with these property owners and talk to them about how they see the future of their properties,” Drumm said. He added, “We’re going to bring in an engineer to design it, block by block, where we might see the public park space come in and where we might see the drainage go and take it piece by piece.”
The city wants to talk to property owners along US 301 about new ways to use their land, which could include greater densities, Drumm said.
“I really see the focus starting at (US) 301, where the Village Inn is and moving northward,” Drumm said. He added, “I’m picturing the density would be higher between fifth and 12th (streets), and then at both ends it goes down as far as the height.”
He can easily see eight-story buildings on part of that stretch.
“We’re going to be planning for this. We can start changing the zoning that is going to allow this,” Drumm said.
Some may have trouble envisioning Zephyrhills with tall buildings, the city manager acknowledged. There may be people who will say, “Well, Zephyrhills is a small town and will always be a small town,” Drumm said.
He doesn’t see it that way.
“Somebody had to build that first eight-story building in Lakeland or Plant City or Tampa,” Drumm said. “It starts with one or two buildings.”
The additional density can make the city more vibrant, Drumm said.
“It really adds to the value of your community and the extra people coming in are going to help keep our businesses alive,” Drumm said.
The city manager doesn’t envision giant skyscrapers in his community, but said there’s a need for more office buildings.
“We’re seeing an increase in the hospital space,” Drumm said. “Florida Medical adding surgery suites. There is a need for additional doctors’ offices.”
The city will need to offer incentives to spur redevelopment, Drumm said.
“How do you convince a building owner to tear down their building?” Drumm asked. “You’ve got to give them something back, and what you are giving them back is the ability to make more money on their investment by having the ability to build up.”
The city plans to give redevelopment areas a more urban look, with downtown-type sidewalk, trees and benches, Drumm said.
The city is also looking at improvements in the Zephyr Park area, Drumm said. One possibility would be to replace the Alice Hall Community Center with a larger civic center.
The community center is too small to accommodate large events, he explained.
While Drumm discussed a host of possibilities for the city’s future, he said it will likely be years before they reach fruition.
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