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Community Voices: No bananas at Coquina Key Plaza

Wendy Wesley

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Coquina Key Plaza today. Photos by Wendy Wesley.

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Our city needs affordable and workforce housing, a fact few will contest. Residential developer Stoneweg USA hopes to provide it with a zoning change that will allow greater height of the structures it hopes to build.

But what responsibility does a developer have to the retail support structure of the community it creates?

A great one, when it removes the only grocery store in an ever-expanding food desert and offers weak and wimpy provisions for another store in its place.

With the purchase of the 110,500-square-foot retail space formerly known as Coquina Key Plaza at 4350 6th Street South, Stoneweg removed a Save a Lot grocery store and, thus increased nutrition insecurity in south St. Pete. Its flimsy offer of 20,000 square feet of retail space to attract a new one is inadequate and shortsighted.

“20,000 square feet is not enough,” said Bahama Shores Neighborhood Association president Walter Borden. “We will ask the Community Planning and Preservation Commission to reject Stoneweg’s agreement and seek 40,000 – 50,000 square feet of retail to make it more attractive for a grocer and other kinds of retail like a pharmacy or a hardware store.”

According to Borden, Winn-Dixie was interested in the space but required 45,000 square feet with adequate parking to operate.

“They shut down the only grocery store for miles and their offer for its replacement is inadequate. This Stoneweg plan will dramatically increase the population and simultaneously eliminate most of the retail space that would service those residents. This leaves us all in a food desert,” Borden concluded.

February 2022 marked five years since the Walmart Neighborhood Market at Tangerine Plaza closed, leaving a large swath of the city in a USDA-designated area of low income/low access or “food desert.”

Data from the 2020 census show these areas have more than tripled in south St. Petersburg. This is evidenced by seven adjacent census tract areas in 2020 compared with 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.
 
Our elected representatives have perfected virtue signaling by giving us a Food Policy Council housed at the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete and a proclamation claiming food as a human right.

Each action has good optics attached to it. Neither action puts food in the stomachs of those who need it.

The CPPC will meet on the zoning variance for the project on August 9. If it receives approval, it will then go before the St. Petersburg City Council. The commission will accept emails and letters on this issue and residents are invited to speak at the August meeting.

It is time to reject aspirational change from our elected officials in the forms of food policy council and “food is a human right” proclamations that confuse doing something with doing the right thing.

It is also 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.

Wendy Wesley is a registered and licensed dietitian in private practice in St. Petersburg.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Shirley Hayes

    July 6, 2022at3:24 pm

    I read a comment that retail services, especially grocery stores leave the Southside due to retail theft. Are there any statistics on that???

  2. Avatar

    Nikki Truitt

    July 19, 2022at5:03 pm

    Shirley – your comment is not really helpful. As a resident being directly impacted by this loss – you providing an implied support of the food oasis is offensive. We had a grocery store, we had a pharmacy – both within walking distance of our homes – this project took both away & is bringing in a lot more people, who will also have to travel miles to get fresh food and our pharmacy needs met. The developers need to commit to improving the livability of our neighborhood – not bring it down.

  3. Avatar

    Patricia meyers

    July 19, 2022at9:11 pm

    I agree completely that the needs of local residents need to be fully addressed before variances are considered and/or approved. This developer has so far only given us lip service and vague promises of which they appear to have no intention of fulfilling. Why should the CPPC and st Pete city council even consider a rezoning variance when Stoneweg can’t even give us a decent supermarket? And 15 stories, really??

  4. Avatar

    Rich Lander

    July 20, 2022at11:07 am

    Coquina Key Shopping Center Development

    Stoneweg US, the corporation that recently purchased the 14.3-acre Coquina Key Shopping Center property, is seeking a St. Petersburg city variance for a proposed seven (7) story (75-foot maximum height) mixed use housing development in a neighborhood that presently allows a maximum building height of 45-feet.

    The Stoneweg US. proposal includes space for a 20,000 square-foot retail area. South St. Petersburg is presently a food desert. A grocery store of 40,000 to 50,000 square-feet is the average size of a significant fresh food store.

    Please consider joining your fellow residents of the community at the August 9th, 2PM, hearing of the Community Planning and Preservation Commission (CPPC) of St. Petersburg where the Stoneweg US proposal and variance will be discussed and acted upon.

    The CPPC hearing is at the City Council Chambers, 175 5th St. N, St. Petersburg

  5. Avatar

    Allie

    July 25, 2022at10:02 am

    Thanks so much for the info Rich. I will try my best to attend. I actually am all for Stoneweg building in Coquina Key Plaza but I was shocked when I heard that only 20K will be for retail space. I think an Aldi or Trader Joe’s would be perfect for this location. I believe 70% of the housing will be market rate and 30% will be workforce housing (incomes of 60-120% median income ). These people will need a grocery store as well as a drug store. It is not absurd to ask for this, especially if they are requesting a 7 story high structure.

  6. Avatar

    Sebastian

    July 26, 2022at6:18 pm

    Here is an article on the reasons why this demographic area is a food desert. “…these stores saw sales plummet alongside repeated burglaries.” Stop blaming developers or companies for demographic community issues. https://www.eatthis.com/news-aldi-store-closing-two-permanent-shut-downs/

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