One common complaint about Tampa, and many of Florida’s cities, is the poor planning of neighborhoods, resulting in strip malls set back from the road by enormous parking lots, nowhere for people to walk, and characterless chain stores. Many of these are aspects of newer neighborhoods, which were created quickly in order to accommodate an influx of new residents. But Tampa has some older areas, which have potential to become thriving centers of business and community life. In an effort to reclaim what used to be a great neighborhood, West Tampa has recently been declared an overlay district; a designation that may make it one of Tampa’s most livable areas in the coming years. WMNF’s Andrew Stelzer has more.

West Tampa was settled more than 100 years ago, when cars were not common and people had everything they needed within walking distance. Many of the older buildings in west Tampa are still standing, but have been boarded up and abandoned for years. But now Mayor Pam Iorio says the area is ready to be redeveloped, and along with community members and business leaders, has created an overlay district. The guidelines specify how building facades should look, what type of landscaping can be used and where, and how homes can be built on the area's narrow lots. The overlay designation includes rules created for West Tampa specifically, including Parking in back of buildings, so that shops can be built all the way up to the sidewalk. Trees will also be planted along the streets to give shade, and chain link fences will be banned. Famous Floyd is a long time west Tampa resident who worked with the mayor on the overlay district. ACT “I was raised in west Tampa…�

The overlay area is bordered by North A Street on the South and Tampa Bay Boulevard on the North, North Boulevard and Rome Avenue to the East, and Macdill Avenue on the west. Floyd says part of the problem that led to the demise of West Tampa was the city ignored the area. ACT “The neighborhood wasn’t involved with the city…�

The regulations throughout the overlay district overrule existing city codes, essentially creating zoning laws unique to the area. The goal is to create opportunities for small businesses to succeed, especially around the old commercial core, Main Street and Howard.

ACT “All the activities here are happening...they're just not doing very well..� Henry Gonzalez is from the West Tampa chamber of commerce. ACT “what we need is more retail..no big conglomerates…it protects..��

Gonzales said there are also protections in place to make sure historic structures are not destroyed. Homeowners should see their property values increase. As for those living in West6 Tampa who rent their homes, Gonzales didn’t have a firm answer as for how to protect them when the value of the price of property goes up. ACT “we don’t want absentee landlords.�

City commissioner Mary Alvarez represents West Tampa. She says Three houses are being built on Palmetto and Howard, and will that will be the first visible sign of what she hopes is a major change back to the days when West Tampa was a pleasant place to work and shop. ACT

Despite the praise the mayor and community members were giving each other at a press conference at the West Tampa community development cooperative, Famous Floyd says there is a long way to go to make the overlay district work. ACT “All the city wants is money…�

There are currently 5 other overlay districts that have been created since 1997. South Howard, Bruce b downs, Westshore, Seminole heights, and East Tampa.

FOR WMNF news, I’m Andrew Stelzer

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