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Community Voices: St. Pete should have a community master plan – to keep it special

Peter Belmont

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Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

St. Petersburg has an opportunity – a chance to create a framework to keep the city special as it continues to grow and change. This opportunity is fleeting. It will need residents speaking up about their love of St. Petersburg and supporting the recently appointed Charter Review Commission taking action to place in the City Charter a community character master plan requirement. As a community, we should not let this opportunity pass.

Please join Preserve the ‘Burg in speaking up to say yes, the time has come for St. Petersburg to have a Community Character Master Plan focused on historic preservation, the arts, local businesses, neighborhoods and diversity.

The opportunity is fleeting because it is only once every 10 years that each City Council member and the Mayor appoint a resident who will jointly make up the nine-member Charter Review Commission. The appointed residents are tasked with reviewing the city charter for potential changes. They work on a tight time frame, their work will be complete in July so the Commission adopted changes can be placed on the November municipal election ballot. Charter amendments require approval by the voters.

The City Charter is akin to the city’s Constitution. Besides setting forth our municipal government’s general powers and how the Mayor and City Council are elected, the Charter also contains waterfront and park protections. One protection found in the Charter is the requirement for a downtown waterfront master plan.

The Waterfront Master Plan requirement was added to the Charter 10 years ago. It was an idea championed by civic groups like Preserve the ‘Burg, which viewed the downtown waterfront as a precious city asset in need of a process to guide decisions impacting it. The 2011 Charter Review Commission approved the concept and placed the master plan issue on the ballot. Over 55% of the voters supported the master plan measure, the first Downtown Waterfront Master Plan was completed in 2015, and it will be updated next year.

Preserve the ‘Burg now calls for a similar guiding document to protect another precious asset: our community character. In the 10 years since the last Charter Review Commission, St. Petersburg has been rediscovered as one of the country’s best places to live. In 2011 you could count the number of downtown high-rise buildings on two hands. Now it seems like you need your hands, feet, and those of several of your friends to count them all!

While we celebrate growth, we also lament the loss of historic buildings and neighborhood character, and grow concerned with the displacement pressures of booming development on artists, local businesses and diversity.

Successful cities change and grow. The future looks bright for St. Petersburg, but only if we maintain those things that make the city special. Preserve the ‘Burg believes that historic preservation, the arts, local businesses, neighborhoods and diversity are the building blocks that create St. Petersburg’s sense of place.

Just as it made sense a decade ago to enact a city charter provision to mandate a downtown waterfront master plan, today it makes sense to do so for our community character. If you love St. Petersburg like we do, join us in asking the Charter Review Commission to give voters the opportunity to approve a Charter amendment requiring the city to have a Community Character Master Plan.

Preserve the ‘Burg has a Community Character Master Plan info page here.

The City has a Charter Review Commission info page here.

The Charter Review Commission meets on the second and fourth Mondays, and takes public comment in person or by Zoom at each meeting.

Peter Belmont is president of Preserve the ‘Burg.

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1 Comment
here we go

1 Comment

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    Charlie Guy

    April 19, 2021at4:02 pm

    This is a VERY WISE suggestion that we all should support strongly!!

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