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Gulf Coast Week

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  • | 6:00 p.m. September 4, 2008
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Gulf Coast Week


Utilities seek rate hikes

Progress Energy and Tampa Electric have both asked the Florida Public Service Commission for permission to raise electricity rates in January to cover the rising cost of coal, oil and natural gas.

Progress asked for a 31% hike, while Tampa Electric asked for a 22% increase. Progress plans to build two nuclear reactors in Levy County and reduce emissions from the company's coal-fired power plants.

Tampa Electric serves 667,000 customers in Hillsborough, Polk, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Progress serves 1.7 million customers in 35 Florida counties, including Pinellas and parts of Pasco and Polk counties.

The commission, which regulates utilities, is expected to issue a decision on the proposal by the end of the year.

Brownfield grants redevelop

The Pinellas County Commission this week accepted a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding three brownfield cleanup grants totaling $600,000.

The county will use the funds to remove garbage from historic landfill sites located in the Dansville neighborhood and fill the excavations with clean soil to transform vacant properties into single-family home sites.

With virtually no large undeveloped vacant parcels remaining in Pinellas, the Brownfield Programaims is creating green space, home sites and redevelopment sites for business.


Ritz-Carlton seeks expansion

The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota already the go-to spot for luxury hotels in Greater Sarasota, could be adding another title to its mantle within the next two years: Biggest hotel in Greater Sarasota.

The hotel has filed permit applications with a state agency to increase its total room count 45%, from 266 to 385 rooms. That would trump the next largest hotel in Sarasota, the Hyatt Regency, which has 295 rooms and just recently completed its own multimillion-dollar renovation project. The Hyatt is in downtown Sarasota, a few blocks down from the Ritz.

Most of the new rooms at the Ritz would come via a new 10-story tower, which, if plans were approved, could be built behind a larger Ritz-Carlton hotel tower already in place. Other areas of the hotel, such as the fitness center, could also be converted into rooms. The expansion project, which the owners of the hotel hope to have completed by 2010, also calls for more than 100 new parking spaces.

The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota opened in 2001 and has regularly received industry and company awards for customer service and quality. It's one of three Ritz properties on the Gulf Coast; the other two are in Naples.

Project receives green light

A mix-used project for Englewood, in the southern reaches of Sarasota County, has been given the preliminarily go-ahead by Sarasota County commissioners.

Plans for the project, the Fairway Vistas at Myakka Pines, include more than 875 homes, 200 apartments and 8,000 square feet of commercial space. The project is planned for the area surrounding the Myakka Pines Golf Club, a 27-hole course off of South River Road.

The project is one of the first in Sarasota to gain preliminary approval under the county's 2050 plan. The 2050 plan calls for developments in rural areas of the county, such as Englewood, to be built in self-contained master-planned style neighborhoods.


Lee permits stay low

Lee County issued permits for 37 single-family homes in August compared with 55 issued in August 2007, a 33% decline. The numbers are evidence that builders of new homes continue to face a tough market.

Meanwhile, the county issued permits for 32 multi-family dwellings in August, a 78% decline from the 146 issued in the same month a year ago.

On the commercial side, the county issued commercial permits for buildings worth $6.2 million in August. That's a 72% decline from the value of commercial buildings permitted in August 2007.

Anti-growthers win in Lee

Three Republican incumbents on the Lee County commission who ran on anti-growth platforms won their primaries, paving the way for their reelection in November in the heavily Republican area.

Despite the rising unemployment rate and economic distress in Lee County, Frank Mann, Ray Judah and Bob Janes won their primaries despite opposition from well-financed, pro-growth challengers.

The elections were particularly important this year because commissioners are scheduled to decide this month how to limit growth on thousands of acres in the southeast part of the county.

Tax on road builders

A consultant hired by Lee County commissioners is recommending the county tax businesses that mine rock used in road building. The new so-called "impact fee" would help pay for new roads.

Mining operations in Lee County have never had to pay taxes on new construction because they're not building homes, schools or other buildings. In fact, some of the rock that's mined in Lee County is an essential ingredient for road building.

Now, Texas-based Duncan Associates recommends Lee County charge rock-mining operations $2,866 per acre, which would be used to improve county roads.


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