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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 22, 2008 11 years ago

Gulf Coast Week

Gonzmarts resignHillsborough service cutsYbor business boostLWR's coming growthBabcock brawl widensAmendment 1 challenge

Gulf Coast Week


Gonzmarts resign

Representatives of other krewes hope two members of a prominent and influential Tampa family in the Gasparilla festival reconsider their resignation over a disc jockey's remarks during this year's pirate invasion.

Richard and Casey Gonzmart, the chief executives in the Columbia Restaurant company and Tampa business icons, resigned from the Krewe of the Knights of Sant' Yago after hearing a DJ on the krewe's vessel entice a woman to bare her breasts for beads during the invasion.

The brothers' family founded the krewe four decades ago. "I wish they had not resigned and hope they will reconsider," said Roger Michels, president of the Krewe of Chasco.

Hillsborough service cuts

Hillsborough County commissioners are considering reducing some services in rural areas to deal with deficits.

In their first budget workshop since the amendment was adopted Jan. 29, commissioners didn't get into many specifics on how to deal with the expected $70 million hit but talked vaguely of how the cuts might mean slower fire and sheriff's office response times for rural residents.

Eric Johnson, director of the Management and Budget Department, gave the commission a list of possible sources of new money, including raising gas taxes a nickel, increasing fees for recreation programs and charging business owners a fee for fire inspections. But those options don't seem likely.

Ybor business boost

Raw Sushi and Sake Lounge is among the latest installments in Ybor City's ongoing effort to change its image as a crime-riddled magnet for club kids to a more adult attraction.

It's one of many emerging venues trying to put some life back into a neighborhood commonly associated with the stigma that Raw Sushi co-owner Bob Volini says is keeping people from visiting the district. New businesses have opened since the Ybor City Development Commission and other groups began striving to not only attract more restaurants but retailers as well to promote Ybor as a mixed-use district.


LWR's coming growth

Lakewood Ranch, the massive master-planned community in east Manatee County developed by Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., is on the verge of getting even bigger. Again.

The latest growth plan the developer has proposed is for a high-density, mixed-use project on nearly 700 acres east of Lakewood Ranch High School and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.

The planners behind the project, to be called Lakewood Centre, envision it becoming the entire area's downtown district, with more then 3,600 homes, 1.77 million square feet of commercial space, 1.56 million square feet of office space and 300 hotel rooms.

The Lakewood Centre plans come only a few months after the developers received county approval to build another 4,000-plus homes on Lakewood Ranch, to go with the 6,000 already there.

The approval process for the Lakewood Centre project began Feb. 15, when SMR officials presented the plans for the project at a Manatee County Planning Commission meeting.

A portion of the homes in the project, possibly about 500, are being planned as workforce housing in the $168,000 to $201,600 range. The first 1,000 or so homes, as well as the initial portions of the commercial and office space and the hotel, will not likely be built until 2011.


Babcock brawl widens

Shortly after Lee County sued Charlotte County for approving the development of Babcock Ranch by West Palm Beach developer Syd Kitson, the Florida Department of Community Affairs jumped into the fray.

Lee County recently sued Charlotte County for approving the 14,000-acre development without regard for the impact of traffic and water. The development in Charlotte County is adjacent to Lee County's northern border and there is concern Lee County will have to pay for traffic and water problems while Charlotte collects tax revenues.

Now, the state is appealing Charlotte's approval of the Babcock Ranch development order to the Florida Land and Water Adjudicatory Commission. Its main concern is the transportation issue and how much traffic the project will generate.

Naples not affordable

Despite the housing slump, affordable housing remains a critical issue in the Naples area, a survey for the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce has found.

When it surveyed employers, the chamber found 55% responded that workforce housing was a very big problem. Another 31% said it was "somewhat" of an issue and 14% said it wasn't an issue.

When asked who should fix the problem, 26% said it should be developers and 10% said it should be employers. Another 24% said a government-backed loan program would fix the problem. The accounting firm of Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Co. conducted the survey.

Amendment 1 challenge

A trio of Florida homeowners, including one in Charlotte County, has filed a class-action lawsuit challenging the portability concept of Amendment 1, the property tax relief package approved by voters late last month.

The homeowners and their attorneys say portability, which allows homeowners to take their Save Our Homes-based tax breaks with them when they move, tilts heavily in favor of longtime homeowners over new and seasonal residents. Individual homeowners from Leon and Palm Beach counties are part of the lawsuit, in addition to the Port Charlotte couple.

There is a dejà vu feeling to the lawsuit: The legal team behind this one also challenged Save Our Homes in court last year, alleging that by giving unequal tax breaks the law violated anti-discrimination policies of the U.S. Constitution. A state judge in Tallahassee dismissed that suit, although an appeal is still pending.

This time, the attorneys are arguing that Amendment 1 is even worse then Save Our Homes because the portability part of the law allows for further disparity, by letting homeowners take their 3% tax cap with them when they move. The attorneys are seeking a judgment blocking individual counties from actually implementing the portability aspect of the law.

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