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St. Petersburg City Council should postpone its controversial Coquina Key Plaza redevelopment vote until a District 7 representative is sworn in on Oct. 13.
District 7, which has been represented by Lisa Wheeler-Bowman since 2015, has the highest concentration of residents living in the city’s growing food deserts.
Wheeler-Bowman’s abrupt resignation Sept. 14 removes a vital vote and voice on the council. Proclamations, food policy councils and failed request for proposals have left District 7 residents with nothing more than subsistence on gas station diets.
During the initial Sept. 8 variance meeting with Stoneweg US, where Wheeler-Bowman was present, numerous residents implored council to reject the developer’s application stating Stoneweg’s paltry offer of 20,000 square feet of replacement retail space could never be enough to attract a grocer.
Stoneweg reps mewed unspecific terms like “trying to” and “hoping to” regarding landing a grocer. Several council members including Brandi Gabbard, Deborah Figgs-Sanders and Richie Floyd stated these efforts did not seem “good enough” and asked Stoneweg to return more intentional language in its draft application by Sept. 23.
At that meeting, council voted unanimously that Stoneweg will alter its language regarding their efforts to land a grocery tenant.
As of this writing, Stoneweg has missed that deadline.
With the purchase of CKP, Stoneweg removed the only grocery store for miles and increased nutrition insecurity in the city it claims to care for and understand.
Data from the 2020 census show areas of nutrition insecurity or “food deserts” have tripled since 2015. This is evidenced by seven census tract areas in 2020, compared to two non-adjacent tracts in 2015.
Nutrition insecurity takes a toll on a community by exacerbating chronic diseases like heart failure and diabetes that are best managed when food is abundant, affordable and fresh. The effects of chronic disease are seen in increasing medical debt and reduced productivity in a part of our city that has chronically been underrepresented and underfunded.
It is time to require developers, workforce and luxury alike, to consider the needs of its residents when requesting zoning changes for the pleasure of doing business in our burgeoning city.
It is time to require that our city ensure the voices of its residents are heard through adequate representation.
Wendy Wesley is a registered dietitian in private practice.