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Over the last several years, St Petersburg’s Planning and Development Department has been working on a detailed and complex plan to address the future redevelopment of our coastal city. City Council has had numerous public meetings and discussions about this plan with the most recent occurring just a few weeks ago.
As one of the strongest supporters of this forward-thinking proposal, I feel it is time to speak to the reality that is the Coastal High Hazard Area (CHHA) plan. I represent a district that sits 95% in the CHHA, and this decision is important to the residents that I serve. Separating fact from fiction has been difficult at best. There have been misconceptions running wild about what this plan does and does not do. I feel we are facing a very limited and short-sided approach to redevelopment, if we aren’t honest about our future without these changes in place.
So let’s start with the biggest misnomer of them all. That this plan is a blanketed increase in density across the entire CHHA. Let me be clear. It is not!
Does it allow for developers to apply for a density increase in targeted areas of the CHHA? Yes, but in only about 30% of it, and exactly where we want density. Namely, the area that includes our target employment centers, activity centers, and lies within ¼ mile of transportation corridors. The remaining 70% of the affected area would continue to prohibit any changes in density along our most vulnerable ecological areas and historically residential coastal neighborhoods.
The next issue is that this proposal will incentivize development in the CHHA. It is very clear that there are no incentives in this plan that would encourage increased redevelopment in the CHHA. If anything, the increase in building standards regarding design and construction actually add a large amount of increased costs and com plexity to all multifamily projects regardless of a request for more density.
It is important to note:multifamily projects are already allowed in many parts of the CHHA, just at a lower density and without the proper building standards that this plan would put in place. This will not stop already allowable multifamily projects to be built, but not passing this would allow them to continue building at a lower standard than proposed.
In order to be more resilient and have a more sustainable community, future developments must be built to a higher standard. Considering the vulnerabilities we face from hurricanes and sea level rise predictions, I believe this is one point we can all agree on.
Lastly, I wanted to touch on the basic law of supply and demand that we are all familiar with, and how that comes into play. We know that according to predictions set forward by StPete2050 we need to create over 1,000 new housing units per year over the next 50 years to accommodate St Pete’s growth projections.
In a built-out city of older housing stock that is surrounded by water, we have no choice but to be honest and forward thinking about what redevelopment looks like. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and hope that our community remains unchanged into the future.
Redevelopment will happen, or prices will skyrocket.
Consider this, if we take 41% of the city’s land mass off the table today we are sending a message that the other 59% is up for grabs. Much of the remaining area has traditionally been considered some of our most underserved communities and lower income neighborhoods. If there is less land to adequately redevelop as a solution to our housing affordability crisis, the land that is left will get more expensive. Communities that already have limited access to affordable and equitable housing solutions will become the areas of last resort for developers looking to invest in our city.
Facts matter, and they have never mattered more to me than they do around this topic. I see incredible opportunity for redevelopment along 4th Street N, MLK St N and the Gateway Activity Center, but without these changes the future will be stifled. Older housing stock, blighted buildings along our commercial and transportation corridors, and outdated and underutilized strip malls may continue to sit.
If rebuilt under the current density allowances, they would be built without higher building standards in place. Both of these outcomes will be catastrophic to the future of St Petersburg overall. This is a time to think big, and have a vision for our city that moves us in the right direction. We do not have the luxury of the status quo. We have to make real change now so St Petersburg can be what we want it to be, not what it’s forced to be.