Gulfport’s first mixed-use development building project received parking variance approval during a June 8 Board of Adjustment meeting as the first part of a three-step approval process being proposed by Joe Culbertson, III of Culby Properties South, a company that already owns several local properties.
The proposed three-story building would occupy a portion of a city block at 2901, 2903, 2905 and 2907 Beach Blvd. S., and replace two existing 1920s buildings containing five residences with commercial, residential and office space, according to a city report.
“This proposed project is actually pretty exciting,” said Mike Taylor, principal planner for the city. “The existing buildings are going to be torn down and a whole new project [will] be put on the same site. The [resident] density is being transferred over, which is allowed by our redevelopment code.”
Before the July 5 city council meeting, Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich said, “The addition will be nice for the area. A balance of residential and commercial space is needed to help Gulfport be a full-service city.”
The three-step approval process, according to Taylor, is:
1) a parking variance
2) a conditional use plan
3) a site plan
“It will probably be one year to get the project [through the process],” said Taylor. The Community Redevelopment Agency, the Planning and Zoning Board and city council will need to hear portions of the process.
Richard Maltinos, Culby’s property manager, said the proposed plan is to have five commercial spaces on the first floor, five residential spaces on the second floor and office space earmarked for the company on the third.
A board member asked, “You have no plans for commercial use of that third floor?”
“Right now, no,” said Maltinos.
Current code without a variance would require the proposed building to have 21 on-site parking spaces. The variance request, according to code, would reduce this number to five.
In addition, the plan calls for the closing of a driveway entrance adjacent to Beach Blvd. S., which would create two new on-street parking spaces, one of which will be a handicap area, said Taylor.
The board approved the variance.
The staff report, prepared by Taylor, made this notation: “The proposed mixed-use development will create a slight additional parking load in the immediate surrounding area. Human nature of potential customers is to park as close as possible to the establishment they wish to patronize. People may have to park and walk to the mixed-use development. One benefit may be customers walking past other businesses and being noticed by the walkers. Interest may be generated for potential visits to those businesses at a later date.”
Culby Properties currently also owns the Art Village Courtyard commercial complex located across the street from the proposed mixed-use project location, the 2820 Beach Blvd. S. commercial building that houses Reef Dog Gifts and Salon M, and a four-unit residential apartment complex at 5320 29th Ave. S.
“We’re hoping we’re really going to make a change for the better in Gulfport,” said Maltinos during an interview. “We’re hoping everybody is going to fall in behind it and really get involved and, maybe, change Beach Drive – the whole look of it, eventually.”
Culbertson grew up in Media, Pennsylvania and has a business administration and IT background. Soon after his dad retired in 2000 from owning his own business in the IT industry, they started investing in Gulfport, Florida real estate “because it reminded us of Media, Pennsylvania but just 50 years before where it is today. Little houses are starting to get to the age where people can’t rehab them to be suitable for living conditions.”
“We’re going to be putting tremendous amounts of money into this project, [and] we wanted to make sure that the benefits to us [are] going to be the greatest,” said Maltinos.
The current residents living in “tiny” rental units in the two buildings on the proposed mixed-use site are being offered first right of refusal for renting the new apartments, if they are built, said Maltinos. Planned are four one-bedroom units and one two-bedroom option. “We don’t know what the rent is going to be right now, of course, until we get much further along.”