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Community Voices: Neighborhood association has Vision2050 questions and concerns

Tom Lally

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Letter from The Council of Neighborhood Associations of South Pinellas County, Inc.

Jan. 27, 2021

City Council

City Hall Council Chambers

175 Fifth Street North

Saint Petersburg, Florida 33701

Dear Council Members:

CONA, on behalf of St Petersburg’s dynamic neighborhoods, wishes to thank you for your ongoing efforts in creating a Vision2050 plan which will chart our future course over the next three decades.

Worth repeating, the next three decades. It is an awesome civic responsibility with tremendous generational impact. The new CONA leadership team recognizes this enormous challenge and we are sharing both questions and concerns.

For 2021 and beyond, CONA neighborhoods have made it clear they expect a deeper engagement with the city on major programs consistent with our charter. We look forward to providing useful input and resources to help you refine Vision2050.

The 2020Vision Plan espoused this guiding principle: “St Petersburg’s greatest asset was the diversity and quality of its many neighborhoods.” The 2020Vision further pointed out “the neighborhood unit shall be the basic building block for social equity and shared enjoyment of St Petersburg’s unique quality of life.” These timeless statements capture the essence of St. Petersburg. While we are focused on three of the Vision2050 Themes here, other themes and concepts need a bit more work as well. We are ready to partner with you.

Neighborhoods: CONA is concerned Vision2050 doesn’t fully reflect the success or prioritize the role of neighborhoods with its inclusion in a more sterile theme of Growth and Community Character.

While managed growth will be critical moving ahead, our community character is defined by our neighborhoods. We feel this section is too focused on growth and less so on bolstering a framework which empowers neighborhood/city partnerships to solve real on-the-ground challenges (and we have many to discuss).

Attainable Housing: Citizens who raised or responded to “Affordable Housing” did so with set expectations based on commonly understood definitions and metrics. To arbitrarily change the terminology and the metrics to the less understood Attainable Housing category does a disservice to participants. More troublesome is the fact the city has reached a unique metric “range” (60 to 120% of Area Median Income) for this term versus standards accepted by entities such as the Urban Land Institute (80 to 120% of Area Median Income). This could lead to less desirable outcomes. Words and Metrics do matter. At the very least an apples-to-apples comparison is needed to correctly evaluate this approach. A better solution is to revert back to Affordable Housing and well-established, understood metrics.

Sustainability & Resiliency: There are a growing number of neighborhoods being affected by “rainy day events” = never mind a serious coastal storm or rising sea levels. For example, when the city moved forward with the CHHA amendment allowing further high-density development, it did so without addressing the need to increase or harden existing infrastructure within the CHHA. This cart-before-the-horse approach is simply unsustainable. Firm goals and commitments are required with the costs rolled back into the plan for complete transparency and a realistic plan. There are several outstanding examples including the Vision 2100 Norfolk, VA plan.

The St Pete Vision2050 effort to date is commendable and CONA applauds these efforts. We look forward to helping you get an enhanced plan across the finish line.

Regarding the Tropicana Field Redevelopment Plan, this is another generational program that will transform the very center of the city. It will become its own neighborhood based on proposed housing element. It will be bordered by multiple neighborhoods. The success of the Tropicana Field Redevelopment Plan will also be viewed through the public lens of addressing Gas Plant unfulfilled promises. There are multiple areas of discussion that need – and would benefit from – a neighborhood ‘seat at the table’. In particular the distribution or allotment of housing segment ratios is a key concern for CONA.

Since Tropicana Field has many outstanding unknowns (such as the Rays future, rail line, etc.), there is no logical reason to rush this plan through when the remaining unknown discovery processes will extend through the Vision2050 finalization and early implementation process. CONA strongly recommends that the Tropicana Field Redevelopment becomes part of the comprehensive Vision2050 Plan. It is hard to imagine a comprehensive Vision strategy when a major element remains in the periphery.

Thank you for your consideration, we look forward to supporting your efforts.

Sincerely,

Tom Lally

President

cc: Mayor Rick Kriseman

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