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Old August 2nd, 2007, 04:16 PM   #1
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Councilman Dingfelder Aims to Fix Ethical Dilemma

Council member aims to fix ethical dilemma

Developers' deals with neighborhoods have come under fire, so he wants the city to help.

By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer

Published August 2, 2007

TAMPA - With a debate under way about the ethics of neighborhood groups taking money from developers, one City Council member thinks he has the answer.

John Dingfelder wants the city to come up with a way to make it clearly kosher for developers to contribute to affordable housing, sidewalks, parks and street upgrades that go beyond the city's legal mandates when they are building a project.

"Our code has certain requirements, but a lot of times there are empty holes between the requirements," he said. "It would be nice if we would have some ability to be creative working with the developer and neighborhoods."

Neighborhood leaders welcome the idea, but some in the development community wonder if such a scheme would pave the way for unreasonable demands.

"It sounds good in theory, but it could have some negative unintended consequences," said real estate attorney Truett Gardner. "Each neighborhood association would develop its laundry list of items and in order to play ball in that neighborhood the developer would have to do one of those things."

On the other hand, he said, Dingfelder's proposal might "take away the appearance of impropriety."

Agreements between developers and neighborhood groups came under fire last month when it was revealed police were investigating whether neighborhood groups had asked for money in exchange for supporting developers' projects.

Rezoning plans submitted by Metropolitan Life Insurance showed the developer had committed to give $50,000 to the Lincoln Gardens/Carver City neighborhood association for improvements that would be identified with help from the city.

City attorneys ordered the provision removed from the plan because the city can require developers to pay only for improvements that offset the impacts of the projects based on technical studies.

The matter prompted a police investigation and a rant by council member Charlie Miranda, who questioned the appropriateness of what he called "side deals."

Miranda singled out a developer who had negotiated two contracts worth $750,000 with a community group that oversees affordable housing programs in West Tampa. The developer withdrew one offer, worth $225,000, after the controversy.

Dingfelder called it an "opportunity that's lost."

He asked the city staff to come up with a way to funnel such contributions through the city's affordable housing program. A report is due later this year.

Dingfelder said the idea could be expanded to include other neighborhood improvements.

"It's nice if a developer can do those types of things with the city instead of directly with the neighborhoods. Then it's a lot more out in the open," he said.

The contributions, though, would have to fund projects that have a clear relationship to the new development.

"It shouldn't just be kind of pie-in-the-sky," Dingfelder said.

Some neighborhood leaders, who worry the new scrutiny of negotiations between developers and neighborhood organizations will diminish their bargaining power, say Dingfelder's concept gives them a tidy way to continue talks with developers.

"We don't ... say 'If you do this, we will support you,' but we do say 'These are things that concern us. Can you address them in any way?' " said Vicki Pollyea, president of the Bayshore Gardens Neighborhood Association.

Yes, said Pollyea, city code dictates what improvements developers have to make to a neighborhood. But the code doesn't consider the complexities of each neighborhood.

"That includes the number of pedestrians, whether people commute, whether they have three cars in their driveway," Pollyea said. "That kind of thing is neighborhood specific."

Pollyea also doesn't trust transportation studies paid for by developers to gauge the effects of their projects.

Neighborhood activist Margaret Vizzi points out that money paid to accommodate cars generated by new developments goes to major roads, not small local streets where there may be cut-through traffic.

Two years ago, Vizzi's South Tampa neighborhood prompted the developer of a hotel to contribute $25,000 to improve neighborhood streets.

"There was no place to put the money," Vizzi said.

The hotel is on hold, but Vizzi and her neighbors are now urging the team behind a four-story office building on Kennedy Boulevard to help pay for traffic calming in Beach Park.

"That's going to be a similar situation," she said. "How is the city going to hold that money when it comes in?"

Janet Zink can be reached at [email protected] or 813 226-3401.

[Last modified August 2, 2007, 00:12:03]
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Old August 2nd, 2007, 05:15 PM   #2
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I'm not too fond of this plan but am interested to see where it goes. I don't like Dingfelder too much since the first day of his term, but he's not as bad to me than some of the really corrupt politicians that we have here.
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