Photos: Susan Taylor Martin, St. Pete Times

“When several old buildings on the 400 block of Central Avenue were demolished two years ago, the owners were required to attractively fence and landscape the property.

The reason? To avoid having an unsightly vacant lot in the “heart of downtown,’’ city planning director Dave Goodwin said at the time.

But for more than a decade, a big parcel a few blocks to the east and even more in the heart of downtown has remained an unsightly vacant lot. Is that a problem?

‘Yes, that is why we changed the code,’ city zoning official Elizabeth Abernethey said this month.

Seems that the un-landscaped lot, once planned for a Grand Bohemian hotel and more recently a 35-story apartment tower, was cleared in 2005, three years before the new code took effect…

Meanwhile, the 400 block of Central — which was subject to the regulations — has been temporarily transformed into a lovely private park surrounded by expensive black-iron, estate-style fencing.

Under a 2008 change to its Land Development Regulations, the city won’t issue a demolition permit in the downtown area unless the applicant has a city-approved site plan and meets ‘any pre-demolition conditions.’

As a condition of selling the 400 block of Central to billionaire John Catsimatidis’ Red Apple Group in 2016, one of the owners, First States, had to clear the property of three buildings and a crumbling parking garage. To get the demolition permit, it also had to landscape the entire 2.5 acre site, which included laying 100,000 square feet of sod and planting shrubbery along the fence. The total cost was estimated at several hundred thousand dollars.

Catsimatidis, who famously said ‘St. Pete needs a skyline,’ plans a soaring mixed-use tower on the property. Many of those who live and work in the area, though, hope he takes his time so they continue to enjoy the tranquil oasis there now.

Says Anna Sprito, who works in a downtown bank: ‘It’s really nice to walk by and look at and see some greenery.'”

— Susan Taylor Martin, Waveney Ann Moore,Tampa Bay Times

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