Saturday, March 8, 2008

Case Study - Pinellas County, FL - Vol. 1

This is the third case study post I've undertaken. This one should live up to its name moreso than the others in the sense that I plan to discuss an entire populous region less from a tourism/neighborhood angle and more from the standpoint of a quality critique of various municipalities.

Over the last 12 months, I've spent roughly 8 days in Clearwater, Florida with side trips to Dunedin, Clearwater Beach, Safety Harbor, Pinellas Park, and St. Petersburg. The stated purpose of these trips has been to watch live baseball ahead of spring in the Northeast. One can read our travel logs at my Spring Training blog linked to on the lower right.

Pinellas County is unique to northerners from a governmental standpoint in that there are unincorpoated areas encompassing 36% of the land area in the county. Residents in this region do not see their first layer or goverment until the county level. The map on the left (used by permission of GNU Free Documentation License 1.2) shows incorporated municipalities.

#5 - Clearwater

It's really amazing how much people change, even over the course of a single year. Perhaps part of my crankiness this year driving Florida Route 580 toward northern Clearwater was caused by our travel timeframe (we didn't make it to our hotel until midnight), but more likely I've developed a more critical eye for what is community and what is crap.

Just about any yellow major road seen on a google map of Clearwater is low density commercial in nature. This is what much of the U.S. Americans are used to these days unfortunately. U.S. Route 19 however, takes it to a whole new level. Take the stretch near Florida-580 (itself a 6 lane suburban thoroughfare). Picture an elevated highway, 3 lanes in each direction, bounded by two lane frontage roads that front 400 space parking lots serving single story big boxes such as Lowe's, Walmart, and the occasional mall. Major east-west roads of any value only occur at 1.5-2 mile intervals as subdivision planners discourage a real street grid and thus multiple traffic reducing connections. Forget about pedestrian utility here folks! The sidewalk (I'm surprised it even exists) can only talk you to a Burger King half a mile down the road buffered by two to three car dealers. Crossing the street in areas without elevated highway is akin to scaling the Berlin Wall. This pattern of elevated/at-grade six lane repeats over and over from Palm Harbor all the way to South St. Petersburg 20 miles away. And you (Rochesterians) thought Jefferson or Ridge roads were bad?

To be completely fair, Clearwater has a traditional downtown as seat of Pinellas County. Unfortunately that downtown is compromised by the world headquarters of the "Church" of Scientology. Across the causeway is Clearwater Beach, a popular spring break destination with many restaurants, boats for hire, and other activities (the picture of me on the right was taken there). But on the whole a major issue of scale/density is presented when comparing Clearwater's meandering boundaries with a population of just over 100,000.

#18 - Safety Harbor

We didn't make it into Safety Harbor in 2007 which is unfortunate. Safety Harbor, or at least Olympia Development who seems to hold a lot of the prime downtown real estate rights, seems to have a decent understanding of what makes a community. We ventured into Safety Harbor this year in search of good southern barbecue and came out with a vacation redeemed and the faith that somebody in Florida knew what they were doing.

Beginning in late fall 2004, the gears were set in motion for Dunedin based architect William Touloumis to leave his fingerprints on the first block of main street in the heart of Safety Harbor. More pieces of his master plan were realized when his company purchased the landmark Safety Harbor Resort and Spa in order to block development that would have a negative effect on Harbour Pointe.

We were able to see the completed retail/office facility at Harbour Pointe, home to an upscale restaurant, a wine store with tasting bar, a Coldstone Creamery, a cellphone retailer, and a Starbucks. It was a three story breath of fresh air. Excellent scale considerations for a minor city of 17,000. Directly across the street is the old St. James Hotel, successfully renovated into Harbor House, another three story mixed use complex on a reasonable footprint.

Respect is given to the pedestrian in Safety Harbor. At every intersection of Main Street, curbs are bumped out to eliminate tricky turning lanes and effectively slow down other traffic. Stop signs are abundant. On street parking is also marginally protected by these bumpouts and it was free as far as I could tell.

One block west of Harbor House, we came across the former site of Harbor Plaza. Noting at the time that an out of place stripmall had likely met its demise, I was pleased to just find out through the magic of the internet that the site, formerly only utilizing just over a quarter of its effective footprint (must provide off-street parking!), will be developed into Parkview at Safety Harbor, a retail/office/townhouse project.

It would appear that Safety Harbor is in capable hands. I look forward to seeing it in five years.

I was planning on tackling #6 - Dunedin, and #22 - St. Petersburg tonight, but will instead try to break up my heinously verbose case study posts into pieces this time around. Also in store in Volume 2 is the recognition by some Tampa Bay area resident that the time to act to address density/sprawl issues is now. The goal is to complete the balance tomorrow, but we are leaving for a period of time while our realtor holds our house open, so it may be published Monday morning.

1 comment:

Tom said...

When you come to St. Pete be sure to look at Bartlett Park and other inner city neighborhoods that were planned early in the last century. Historic structures with a human scale contrast with the newer developments you visited.

Walkable and with halfway decent bus service these neighborhoods give you a break from sprawl and gridlock. At the tip of our Pinellas peninsula the traffic eases and you can enjoy a bike ride. A diverse group call this part of town home. The African American residents have a strong sense of community. People look out for one another and welcome newcomers.