New organization promoting smart growth in Safety Harbor
The term has been floating around the City of Safety Harbor quite a bit lately, and without much back story behind it, it’s gained somewhat of a negative connotation from those who believe ‘smart growth’ is a buzz word favored by developers and nature haters who want to pave over every inch of the city and diminish its natural beauty.
But as Vic Curti and Kevin LaBrie, founders of Smart Growth Safety Harbor, explain it, their organization is part of a nationwide coalition dedicated to combatting urban sprawl and finding better ways to build, maintain and grow communities by supporting local businesses as well as protecting the environment.
Safety Harbor Connect recently sat down with Curti and LaBrie, who moved here from Pittsburgh a couple of years ago, to find out what the organization is all about, and what they plan to do to help promote smart growth in their new hometown.
“When we decided to live in Safety Harbor two years ago, we saw some things that were very promising—the new houses on Iron Age, mixed in with the traditional style homes and the town houses—and we said, ‘this place gets it,’” Curti said.
“The code was set up with smart growth in mind,” LaBrie said.
“So we were really excited, then supremely disheartened to learn the new zoning codes were designed to go against the traditional neighborhood idea,” Curti continued.
“We got an inkling there were disparate ideas during the election, and we realized what we thought was a progressive community wasn’t really. And we knew we had to do something.”
“We knew we had to get another voice out there,” said LaBrie.
The pair came up with the idea to form a local offshoot of Smart Growth America, a national organization dedicated to building communities with housing and transportation choices near jobs, shops and schools, with a focus on supporting local economies, protecting the environment and an emphasis on vibrant downtowns.
“At Harvard this summer, they’re offering seminars from famous urban planners and they are exactly about this stuff,” Curti, an architect, explained. “Every planner in the U.S. knows the principals of downtown living.”
“Mixed-use, a variety of housing styles and of different incomes,” LaBrie said.
“If you live close enough to down town, it becomes part of your everyday life,” added Curti. “Walkability is very important to a downtown district, and we’re asking them, don’t litigate out the ability to do that.”
Curti and LaBrie, along with other SGSH members, including former Planning and Zoning Board member Tammy Vrana and outspoken community leaders Desayna Daly and Mick Elliot, believe that Safety Harbor’s downtown district is dying a slow death, due to businesses constantly opening and closing and a lack of stores that provide necessities such as groceries, hardware and medicine.
“Main Street is struggling,” Curti stated. “And the main reason is the de facto commercial Main Street of Safety Harbor is McMullen Booth Road. Artificial life is being given to Main Street through events, and it’s like a drug. Without the events, people would see it for what it is.”
“If you want to hang a towel rack, you have to drive up to McMullen Booth to a huge parking lot,” LaBrie said. “Sprawl killed the traditional neighborhood, and that’s what’s happening to downtown Safety Harbor.”
Curti and LaBrie contend that certain zoning codes the city commission has approved, or is considering, such as zero lot lines and larger setback requirements, have contributed to the decline of the downtown district.
“(Vice Mayor) Andy Zodrow said zero lot lines have to go, and (Commissioner) Janet Hooper said we need more grass around homes,” Curti explained. “That’s what they thought in the 1950s,” Curti said.
According to LaBrie, “There’s places for that, but not downtown.”
In order to help spread the word, and clear up any misconceptions, about smart growth, Curti and LaBrie have been holding and attending meetings, engaging new members, and sending emails to city officials that detail the smart growth principals practiced by communities across the country.
Recently, the two appeared before the City Commission to speak about the initiative.
“Smart Growth…is a movement that’s all over the US, and all we want is a vision that is looking towards the future, not a vision that is that is thinking about the status quo of today,” Curti said during the August 1 commission meeting,
“We think that a focus on Main Street, and the health of Main Street, is one of the most critical components to that. Because eventually, our kids and our kids’ kids are all going to be demanding walkable communities.”
“When you look at Main Street, it looks like its transitioning more to an office park than a truly walkable downtown community,” LaBrie said, noting a number of recent business closings where offices replaced the retail spots. “So we’d love for the city to look into how they can help that.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Mayor Andy Steingold addressed their comments.
“When we talk about, well we don’t have enough businesses in the downtown, that’s been an ongoing issue since I’ve been sitting up here,” Steingold said during his Commission Report
“And the reason is, there’s not enough traffic. They like to be on a McMullen, they like to be by US 19,” he added. “So a lot of what we have is mom and pops, and that’s what the city thrives off of, is mom and pop restaurants.”
While the mayor admitted the stops and starts associated with Main Street businesses can be frustrating, he also said he believes Safety Harbor’s downtown district is in good shape when it comes to attracting visitors.
“It is frustrating sometimes…when everybody says well there’s not enough to draw people, there’s not enough going on downtown,” Steingold said.
“When you start looking and comparing Safety Harbor to downtown Dunedin, I think we offer a lot more at this point than downtown Dunedin, or we’re equal. I just don’t see people driving over to downtown Dunedin. I see people driving over to downtown Safety Harbor.”
Following the meeting, the mayor spoke with Curti and LaBrie at length, with Curti stating he would like people to be able to do all their Christmas shopping on Main Street within 20 years, and Steingold saying he believes the city is “a lot further along now then we were 10 years ago.”
Afterwards, Curti and LaBrie shared their thoughts on what transpired.
“It was nice to hear some discussion about Smart growth and it was nice talking with the Mayor after the meeting,” the pair responded via email. “We were surprised and a bit frustrated to hear the comments about “rents are too high” and “not much we can do”. The private sector alone can rarely reverse the current situation and economic development handbooks say the same.”
“With the closing of some recent retail businesses, people are just now starting to realize that our Main Street more closely resembles a suburban office park,” the note continued. “Focus on Main Street is long overdue.”
“Towns across the country, big and small, look to these strategies for building successful vibrant Main Streets, more walkable and sustainable communities and Smart Growth that will help secure them for our future generations.”
“As a community we need to strike a better balance, look outside ourselves for guidance, and believe that Safety Harbor can be the best charming small town in the Tampa Bay region.”
The next big step for Smart Growth Safety Harbor is a special tree lighting ceremony for the city’s historic Baranoff Oak, considered to be one of the oldest trees of its kind in the county if not the entire state of Florida.
“The lighting of the Baranoff Tree is a symbolic gesture that shows what good can come from finding common goals rather than focusing on our perceived differences,” Curti and LaBrie wrote. “Apparent disparate interests are all addressed through the lighting of the Baranoff Tree.”
“We have been frozen by entrenched conflict for too long and believe that people are looking for a new voice of reason to stop building trenches and start finding common ground. The lighting of the tree is hopefully another step toward that goal.”
The Baranoff lighting ceremony is tentative scheduled for the city’s next Third Friday event on August 19.
For more information on Smart Growth Safety Harbor, visit their Facebook page.
I don’t appreciate your threatening mail you are sending through the USPS . I’ve called the police on you. Who threatens a single mom and her 10 year old son anyway?
I also meant to say that McMullen Booth is like a mile from Downtown Safety Harbor. It isn’t at the “edge” like Pasco to Tampa. Wal-Mart isn’t coming in and putting a store on Main St. People are still going to drive out to Publix, Target, Home Depot, etc because those places have the best prices and are actually convenient.
Downtown Safety Harbor should focus on relaxing codes to allow breweries, food trucks, mixed uses, townhomes, etc, anywhere in Downtown. If a business wants to open somewhere, don’t tell them no. See how you can help them.
Dunedin actually did this with one of the breweries. The brewery didn’t have enough parking spots under the code (codes like this are dumb, but anywho) so the city staff helped them come up with a solution. That is how a city can help.
Two questions E. What businesses that wanted to open up in SH were told no?
And why are codes like parking requirements “dumb?”
1. Urban Sprawl is not necessarily a bad thing and big box stores are a good thing as well. Urban sprawl has lowered the cost of housing greatly in this country and we should be happy about that.
2. That being said, walkable communities are awesome. Walkable communities on the water are even better. It isn’t that Safety Harbor needs “smart growth” or planning, it is the fact that Safety Harbor continues time and time again to get in its own way. The apartments were a great example (though approved they were highly opposed). Signgate was another example. Buying a prime lot for parking is another example. Considering banning splitting lots another example. Trees…OMG.
Happy Monday to all after thinking long and hard I came to the conclusion that I am no longer a part of Safety Harbor therefore it is not possible for me to like something that I am no longer a part of, this is why I unlike and unfollow Smart Growth SH and will follow suit with other places in Safety Harbor that I used to like, it is high time for closure of this chapter in my life, I now have a bright and beautiful future, I am no longer that scared and stressed person trying to be accepted by bunch of people who refuse to accept me for what I am! Wishing Clyde Hutchings with Edgewater & Main for their future relocation away from Safety Harbor! Here’s a heads up for a new Remax real estate office coming soon next to the Pizza Place, and a very tacky Photo Studio with red walls taken over my space, yep that about sums it up for the future growth of Safety Harbor, wishing much luck to all of you through your difficult plans! 🙂
Best of luck Dee. We will continue our work to try to get things moving in the right direction.
Thank you Kevin, best of luck to all of you, take care and be well!
Posts above keep addressing a hardware store. Either people are new to Safety Harbor or the pollen has diminished their memories, as Safety Harbor had a hardware store for a long time. It was in the location where Cooperheads Tap House is currently.
While it was very convenient for a few nails or screws, the large stores naturally had better pricing which ultimately led to the closing of the store.
So, a hardware store is not part of a successful solution in the overall vision.
What happened to the possibility of a small grocery store going in where Captain’s Pizza used to be (across from Post Office)?
Something needs to happen, I agree, we have got to get some retail in here and get rid of all the offices. However, like most, I moved here because the old small town feel – we need to preserve this!
Really TJ , you couldn’t keep so many retail merchants that are now gone, what makes you think you can bring in new ones?? Just a heads up of facts not fiction I listed my retail business for sale which was posted nationwide for close to 2 years few interested buyers did research and didn’t want to invest due to slow economy and high price rental fees in Safety Harbor so everybody’s idea of quaint doesn’t pay the bills, I hope everybody will consider that otherwise your quaint town is doomed!
Obviously most went through hard times during the recession – myself included as I had to close up a business, albeit not on Main Street. So, I think that’s par for the course for that period of time if that’s what you are referring to – very few want to invest during a slow economy.
I’m not a retailer, just a consumer, but I can tell you this, the more you limit your customer base, the less chance you have of success. I wish all the retailers great success, but honestly how can you expect the likes of a lingerie shop, women’s running shop, mobile telephone store, bike rental store, higher-end eccentric furniture shop, etc, to make it here? Sorry to offend you if one of these were yours (and there’s many others that failed that I don’t have time to mention), but if you don’t have a good fit and appeal to a majority rather than a minority in this area, then it’s not going to work out.
For many years I’ve watched visitors walking up and down Main Street coming from the Spa, yet I still haven’t seen a single souvenir shop. That amazes me. Bring in retailers that can appeal to a wider variety of people (hate to beat a dead horse but I’ve seen the same shops in downtown Dunedin stay in business for years upon years) and we’ll have a successful thriving downtown.
Doomed is the last thing Safety Harbor will be. We all may have different opinions, but we all love Safety Harbor and we will work to make it great – just gotta find that fine line.
DO NOT be fooled by this group Smart Growth! They are a group of developers who want to destroy the small town charm of Safety Harbor for their own profit!
Get over yourself Lisa Broom, you are an insignificant part of a doomed town known as Safety Harbor, I feel pity for your negative outlook on life! 🙂
Watch out for that Pig with the Lipstick that you love so much!! Ha Ha Ha 😉
Ms Bloom, I happen to know several people involved with Smart Growth and they are not developers. They are retired residents, accountant and business owners trying to make a living. Who exactly are you ranting about? And why are you against the downtown improving? It does not make sense to say you love Safety Harbor but don’t want to see the downtown survive.
So Lisa, I am curious….do you believe in a quaint and charming Safety Harbor? I do, but not the same as you. The way that you present your opinion is not quaint and charming. Smart Growth Safety Harbor is all about building a community atmosphere, a walkable and social community which is also a safe community, people who will engage in the downtown shops and local activities. The more we get together, the nicer we will be to one another which is something that is , desperately needed in our community. There is no reason for anyone to come down on the builders. They are doing their job. People work to make a profit, they own dress shops, restaurants, markets, real estate companies, etc.. to make a profit. Profit assists a community in many different ways. Do you work for free? Does the company you work offer free services…no. Some profit is more than others which is the way our society works. I am happy that the community is trying to evolve in to something better, it is far better than going backwards.
Last week two more former retail locations on Main Street were converted to real estate offices. RE/MAX is setting up an office between the Pick Your Poison Cupcake Cafe and Safety Harbor Pizzeria. Blake Real Estate is opening an office where the coin shop used to be between Athens Restaurant and Nolan’s Pub. What’s next – convert Safety Harbor Resort and Spa into an office complex?
I will say two words- Trader Joes! If you build it, they will come. A girl can dream right 😉 Bring on the Smart Growth.
PBJ – Who said anything about wanting a McDonalds, Chipotle or Pizza Hut? No one will get into their car from Tampa, St Pete or even Oldsmar for the typical national chain. They want unique restaurants, bars, micro-breweries, shops, boutiques, bakeries, and markets. Ever hear of Locale Market in downtown St Pete? We could only dream of getting them to SH but there could be a smaller market recruited to the downtown area with assistance from the City. A market can offer so much more than food. It could have a small section of hardware, housewares, or even bike rentals. THINK outside the box! That is what drives a healthy downtown. Diversity!
And yes, a 300 apartment community would help downtown SH. The residents would more than likely be young professionals that love to eat out in unique restaurants, shop local and be able to walk and meet up with their friends. The youth today is not a mall shopper.
Hahaha! Just what we need. Apartments? 300 of them no less. You and Smart Growth disgust me!
Sure 300 apartments will
Help businesses. But you forget to consider 4-500 or more cars entering Bayshore in the morning and returning after work. You don’t discuss what such a commercial look and feel of a 300 apartment structure would mean to the marina and downtown areas. I don’t know if you’ve thought about how large a building this would be. And what an overwhelming feature it would be on our waterfront and on the entrance to our downtown area.
The 300 young people living there may support our awesome restaurants. But while you may be right that they are not mall shoppers you look past where they shop. It’s not small Main St business. They shop online. Price matters more than service. Price matters to millennials more than convenience.
And Locale Market or a smaller version? By the time we have the critical mass to support either we may as well be just another Dunedin. We are supposed to be thinking outside the box here! If most of us wanted to live in Dunedin we’d have bought a home there.
Again, and I’ll once again admit to throwing this out for discussion only, who thinks opening even a small 2,000 SF general store downtown is a great idea? Are you ready to sink the funds into that particular idea? Do you know if there are people looking to open a general store 10 minutes or less from the big box chains? Do you think these 3-500 apartment dwelling millennials will support a store selling two choices of towel racks for $10 when they can drive 5-10 minutes for 10 choices for $7? Maybe they would support Main St businesses. But the existence of Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond and Home Depot within 10 minutes causes doubt.
Scroll up. Priscilla mentions Pizza Hut. While she doesn’t ask for a Pizza Hut, or a McDonalds, I mention these as businesses most of us agree don’t belong anywhere near Main St. But what businesses do belong? What fits in with the small town SH vibe and will bring in out of towners to dine and shop? Crooked Thumb seems to be bringing people in. But are they too far off Main St to help business there? How do we attract 10 more Crooked Thumb type businesses to Main St? And how do we identify what these businesses are?
There is so much to talk about and consider. My bottom line is this: How do we grow SH and retain the small town feel many of us love and not become another Dunedin or St. Pete?
Love the threatening letter in my mailbox today Desanya. The police are on it!
You may have to drive to McMullen Booth, or US19 to buy that towel rack to hang. But a local hardware store is not the answer. We could build a 300 unit apartment building and fill in every nook and cranny in the downtown area with housing. But there still won’t be enough people to support even a small hardware store.
People will continue to drive to save a few bucks. The small guy won’t be able to compete on price or selection. Leaving only service. And one, there won’t be enough rooftops to support this hardware store, and two, enough of us don’t value exemplary service over price. How many of us use Amazon rather than a local vendor to save just the 7% tax?
I could be wrong and there are a dozen folks lined up to open a 7,000 SF hardware store somewhere we can walk to from Main St. But I’m betting not.
I look forward to the conversation. What does bring people downtown? What businesses would be viable serving walk up residents and not depend as much on visitors? Do we want a Pizza Hut or a Chipotle on Main St? How about a McDonald’s? The old Pizza Hut and grocery died when better options grew along McMullen Booth. They aren’t coming back to Main St.
How does that 300 unit development affect the unique aspects of SH? Does the traffic it will bring also bring some of the negatives of a Dunedin? Do we want a bustling, busy Main St that mirrors Dunedin in SH? How do we retain the small town charm of SH while growing? And please let’s not use Dunedin as our template. Many of us chose SH because it isn’t Dunedin. Not that Dunedin doesn’t have it’s charms, but we need only one Dunedin.
So far the homes built recently in the downtown area seem to fit in with the older homes. If we build too many what does that do to the overall character of the Main St. Corridor? I don’t know, but I’d really enjoy the discussion!
When I moved here it was because of the small town throw-back in time feel, but main street MUST grow and be more versatile. As mentioned in the article a hardware store would be great, a lot of us own our own homes and obviously homes need attention. I would love to walk down the street to get some screws or a tool that I need instead of getting in my car and driving a few miles. We need a diverse downtown for ourselves and to also attract others to come here. Tampa is in the top five fasted growing cities in the country now, its population grew by more than 57,000 people between 2014-2015. What do city folks like to do…..get out of the city and enjoy a small town that has a lot to offer. I used to work on Main but because of a dry spell of people visiting I no longer have a job in Safety Harbor; as someone commented earlier “work-live-play”. Action needs to be taken to breath new life into our community without sacrificing the sense of community.
New planned-communities across the country are spending huge amounts of money in an attempt to re-create small-town, downtown-living feel — a characteristic that draws new residents to a lifestyle of simpler times. Safety Harbor already has those exact ingredients — beginning with a Main Street and waterfront — others are trying to build from scratch, but we continually ignor our greatest strength because a handful of misguided status-quo crazies still think this is the 1970s.
Come on, people. This is the future of our downtown we’re talking about. It’s drying up and turning into an office park because city leadership is doing nothing to attract or support retail business.
For the mayor to suggest Dunedin — where you could actually go from shop to shop to complete the family Christmas shipping, and then eat and drink at a variety of restaurants/watering holes — is chasing Safety Harbor tells me he is either clueless or needs to get out more.
And enough with the only argument the choking-us-to-death status-quo group can make: ”Oh, it’s greedy developers …” That response has become so tired and lame it only shows ignorance.
Open your eyes and take a good look. Smart Growth is a nationwide movement aimed at keeping existing communities self-sufficient and active, reducing urban sprawl. Smart Growth is a blueprint drawn and promoted by the smartest, most-educated urban planners in the country who are looking ahead for future generations.
Above commenter Lisa Bloom and her crew of hate-spewing, insult-spouting (because that’s the only response they know) wing nuts can cling to 1974 if they want, but to anybody with a realistic view, Downtown Safety Harbor needs leadership and it needs it now.
Look at it this way: Pretend Downtown Safety Harbor and its merchants are a tree. Now, go save it.
Thank you, SGSH.
Dunedin definitely has it over Safety Harbor as far as downtown foot traffic..once you get past Starbucks on Main St, there’s not too much retail, and things are just stretched out too far down Main St..And the empty shops do leave a bad impression that we are a ghost town..if we didn’t have events, no one would we exist….but as far as natural beauty and history, we have most communities beat..I think we need to emphasize this more to the public
If you would like to see a 3D model version of “Smart Growth” visit the City of Oldsmar. They are light years ahead of us moving into the future. The City of Oldsmar and USF Engineering students worked together developing a vision for their downtown area. What a fabulous idea, a city working with the future generation who will be working and living in the community, not the “Status Quo” who wants to continue to live in the 70’s. During the visit, Safety Harbor was mentioned on how fortunate it is to have their downtown on the water whereas the City of Oldsmar does not. Downtown Safety Harbor has so much potential and was moving forward with the 2007 Redevelopment Plan. Why did it stop? Look at leadership. You can’t have diversity with leader(s) saying “It has never been that way and never will”. I believe our citizens are more positive than that and want to see a vibrant downtown.
You know if the apartments would have been built then that would be at least 300 more people living in Safety Harbor even more if the density was higher.
Don’t agree, the apts. would have increased traffic downtown, alright…Cause we’d never be able to get out!!!!
You know that apartments actually decrease peak traffic compared to an office use? People in apartments trickle out slowly during the day. While office uses receive and get rid of all the cars at the same time during rush hour.
Every single development gets traffic complaints and they are not based in reality. If you want an area to grow, then you need to grow the residential base.
Good job putting lipstick on a pig! Smart Growth is a group of money hungry swine lining their own pockets at the expense of our beautiful town.
WOW! Lisa, you must be a pretty unhappy person with those types of comments.
Another example of your I dea filled, constructive and mature commentary. It is this negativity and refusal to engage in mature discussion about ideas to help Improve our town, that the community is tired of. Take time to learn about it or talk to us to learn about what we are really trying to do. You are so far off base. We want us all as a community to profit from a more successful Main Street, where we can walk to multiple retail shops and restaurants and you could walk to pick up your produce from a quaint market any day of the week.
Lisa, Where are you getting your misguided thoughts from? Very sad you have missed the whole message.
Sounds promising. I love Safety Harbor but I think the downtown is really struggling. Seems like a classic “Catch 22” – retail doesn’t want to open in downtown because there’s not enough traffic and there’s not enough traffic because there’s not much retail open. We need a spark.
So you want to get rid of set backs & trees to bring more growth to downtown – you know what doesn’t have trees or setbacks? The urban canyons of major cities!
It is disheartening to hear misleading and exaggerated “information” to try to scare people into staying the uninformed current course. We absolutely do not want to get rid of trees or setbacks. In fact, we are celebrating the Baranoff Oak because we wholeheartedly support the promotion of our shared tree canopy. This tree is particularly unique because it also could act as a point of interest along our struggling Main Street, another Smart Growth goal. In regard to setbacks, Smart Growth theory supports setbacks but it encourages a “transect approach”, varying the setbacks as you move away from the Main Street walkable zone. Smart Growth theory would encourage LARGER setbacks at the periphery, for example the Firmenich site would be a great place for large acre lots surrounding a new arboretum or working farm (this is also a Smart Growth trend called “Agridevelopment”). The current zoning changes are an effort to keep the setbacks modeled on outdated suburban methodology. And, excuse my use of sarcasm reflecting your post above, you know what they call a community with even distribution of housing across the entire landscape? Sprawl!
Downtown Dunedin totally has it over Safety Harbor. Especially retail which is going extinct here. Office space reigns. Our antique store on Main has survived for 4 years largely from major events and Spa conventions, weddings, etc. I believe years ago the city designated funds that engaged an individual to market Safety Harbor. Is that true and could that happen again? Maybe not an individual but partner and brainstorm with the Chamber + merchants and all three collaborate to market our downtown. That’s working for Dunedin. Just sayin’….
Thank you to Kevin + Vic for your Main Street vision. I support you 100% and am willing to help.
Move to Dunedin then!
Nothing says we want development like complaints over an apartment community, riots over large houses, leasing an empty lot in the heart of downtown for parking (therefore the guy will never sell), having a stringent and inconsistent sign ordinance, not allowing food trucks, protecting trees like they are humans, trying to screw homeowners out of splitting parcels, etc.
And Mr. Mayor, what is the alternative to drive-by traffic???? More residents. Yet every proposal from a developer is met with animosity from residents and tree commissioners.
Cities and downtown areas don’t rely on drive-by traffic. They rely on residents.
Absolutely spot on!
That is why they are trying to run out the middle class.
What happened to the property where the old grocery and Pizza Hut stood on Main and 2Av. No. What a great location for a small grocery, shops and Apartments. The parking lot is just for Third Friday’s and other events , not much for bringing people downtown to shop retail.
Merchant association should be very important for all merchants plus advertisement.
I really hope they can be successful in bringing our current administration into modern times. It is obvious that Mayor Andy Steingold is out of touch with reality if he believes that Safety Harbor is in better shape than Dunedin. Just drive down both main streets on any given Saturday evening. Dunedin is booming at 10 and 11 o’clock in the evening and the streets are filled with people having fun and spending money. Safety Harbor is dead by 10. I leave Safety Harbor and drive to Dunedin to have fun for that very reason.
Finally! An organization in the city that cares about downtown – the heart of it all! Love the idea of growing the downtown area and bringing in more shopping and a more diverse selection of housing, walkability – walkability – walkability!! I’ve been in the harbor for 20 years and this is exactly what we want more of!