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SoHo developer regrouping; neighbors protest apartment plan

By Elizabeth Behrman
Tribune staff
Published: June 27, 2013
SOUTH TAMPA - After the city council denied their rezoning request, developers of the would-be SoHo Flats apartments are considering their next move.Pollack Shores Real Estate Group had plans to build a 212-unit apartment complex, which would have included a parking garage and more than 15,000 square feet of retail space, at 936 S. Howard Ave. The property, already zoned for commercial use, is the former site of Joe Redner's Xtreme Total Health and Fitness gymnasium.On June 20, council members turned down the apartments proposal on the basis of their simultaneous denial of the development group's request to close a portion of Eleta Street that runs through the property.It is too soon to say what Pollack Shores plans to do next, said Anthony Everett, regional director for the real estate group."These projects take a lot of time and planning to get to the point where we were, so it will likely take us a little while to figure out where we go from here," he wrote in an email. "We certainly don't want to present any new ideas or proposals until we have fully vetted their feasibility both from a financial and an entitlement standpoint."Everett said he met with neighbors and tried to address their concerns as he worked on the design for SoHo Flats. He wanted to build something that was "less intense" than what could go on the piece of prime South Howard property, he said, adding the apartments would have improved the area's ambiance and made it more pedestrian-friendly.Still, neighbors came out in force to the evening meeting to protest the project, arguing it would create more traffic and saying it didn't fit with the design of the rest of the neighborhood."There appears to be a large disconnect between the (city's) vision for the SoHo district and what the neighboring homeowner's associations want to see there," Everett wrote in an email.At the meeting, Scott Weber, a member of the New Suburb Beautiful civic association, called the SoHo area an oasis of beautiful neighborhoods with a culinary district sandwiched in-between. He said he and his neighbors opposed the project because of the variances the developer had requested in its zoning application.In the application filed with the city, Pollack Shores sought permission to remove some trees, build an 8-foot-high fence and reduce the amount of landscaped area typically required for multi-family properties.Weber said Pollack Shores was not working to preserve or add to the neighborhood at all."This neighborhood is moving in the direction of more green space and better quality use, not in the direction of a giant concrete monstrosity with a little ribbon of grass used to collect cigarette butts on a Friday night," he said.Other neighbors said the requested road closure and an apartment building filled with new residents would create traffic problems. Still others, while acknowledging the existing structure on the property is unattractive, said they would rather see something other than the proposed development on the lot."We don't want apartments," said Anneliese Meier, a member of the Parkland Estates Civic Association. "This is a mecca for fine restaurants. This could be another restaurant."Everett said the plan for SoHo's development, outlined years ago by the city, aims to create a pedestrian-friendly restaurant and entertainment district similar to Park Avenue in Winter Park or Las Olas (Boulevard) in Fort Lauderdale."From the response we received," he said, "it's pretty clear that the neighbors would prefer to see less development, rather than more, in the SoHo district."[email protected](813) 259-7691Twitter: @LizBehrmanTBO