Connect with us


Darden Rice’s plan for complete neighborhoods – a movement towards affordability in more than just housing costs

Darden Rice



Photo courtesy of St. Pete Flickr

Welcome Catalyst’s Community Voices. 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. 

We have an affordability emergency in St. Pete. In addition to housing costs being expensive, we have an emergency in the costs of transportation. Many citizens are also struggling to afford the AAA estimated approximately $9,000 per year ($750 per month) required to own a car to get to jobs. We also have an emergency with the cost of operating local businesses. Local businesses and citizens are getting pushed out of St. Pete with nowhere else to go. We are in danger of losing our local artists due to high costs of living and artist studio space. Citizens who contributed so much to the renaissance of St. Pete are getting squeezed out of our city.

As I wrote in my op-ed last month, I am looking for the City of St. Petersburg to move towards Complete Neighborhoods. The idea behind Complete Neighborhoods is to plan our neighborhoods so that everything is walkable, generally within 10 minutes. When we look at zoning issues for missing middle housing affordability through a complete neighborhood lens, we are looking at more than just increasing housing supply. Complete Neighborhoods takes into consideration these principles: 

  1. Housing Costs – Citizens need to have access to safe and attainable housing.
  2. Transportation Costs – Citizens need to have access to walkable employment so they have the option to forego the $9,000 per year ($750 per month) cost of owning a car.
  3. Business Costs – Citizens need to have access to affordable commercial and live/work space to start local businesses, artist studios and other entrepreneur space in order to create walkable employment opportunities.

The City of St. Petersburg City Development Administration recently released a zoning plan for the missing middle to potentially rezone multiple busy St. Pete streets (also called Future Major Streets) to allow for eightplex and quadplex apartment units, as well as some other small-scale rental types. The City staff is considering rezonings on streets with high traffic like 9th Ave. N/MLK, 16th St., 4th St., 22nd Ave. N., 22nd St. S., 5th Ave. N. and many other streets with the most traffic in St. Pete. 

The challenge with this strategy is that it focuses too much on developing non-active rental units on designated mixed use development areas and on busy streets in non-walkable neighborhoods.  By perpetuating challenges to walkability, the proposed plan ensures that many neighborhoods will always require a car to get around in the future. 

Developing these eightplexes, fourplexes and other rental housing types in areas where limited walkable employment opportunities exist will still require automobiles for employment that will cost citizens $9,000 per year. Additionally, developing housing without commercial space in designated mixed-use areas of our city will cost future local business opportunities and cause walkable holes within our neighborhood mixed-use districts. Even for areas with existing single family homes on busy streets, the better long-term plan would be for smart adaptive reuse opportunities to repurpose these older homes into smaller commercial uses such as artist enclaves, neighborhood markets, cafes, restaurants, smaller offices and live/work opportunities. Finally, in doing my own outreach to the community, there is a concern that this proposed solution is one that does not work in the real world, because I have been told by multiple professionals in the real estate community that busy streets are the least desirable places to develop smaller apartments.

Given the above, I support an alternative to the City Development Administration’s current plan. Therefore, I have sent a letter to the City Development Administration asking that it pivot away from this plan of allowing the development of quadplexes, eightplexes and other non-active housing types on busy streets. It’s not that I don’t approve of this development, but I disapprove of where it is being placed without giving thought to a comprehensive complete neighborhood planning strategy. Mixed-use apartments could certainly exist with ground floor commercial on busy streets, but we should not lock out opportunities for active, walkable ground floor commercial opportunities such as artist studios, smaller professional offices, restaurants and other small retail uses that give neighborhoods character. 

Even with proposed “Missing Middle” zoning changes, the emergencies in affordability still exist. I would like to see the City Development Administration immediately concentrate on solutions that not only focus on housing costs, but also focus on solutions to reduce the costs of citizens’ transportation to and from work, as well as the costs of local business space. I have suggested the following six Complete Neighborhood oriented zoning solutions to the City Development Administration that should be adopted and brought forward sooner rather than later:

  1. Require mixed-use development in all of downtown and in some neighborhood business districts, close existing mixed-use loopholes, and provide developers additional incentives to develop mixed use.

Mixed use buildings are key in creating complete neighborhood opportunities for walkable employment that save citizens $9,000 in annual transportation costs.  We have to adjust our zoning rules to have more ground floor retail. Over the past few years, thousands of apartment units have been developed in downtown with absolutely no ground floor retail. Multiple new apartment units with little new retail supply developed have caused retail prices to surge, and this has tremendously hurt local businesses downtown. Some mixed-use requirements exist, but there are loopholes like apartment lobbies, apartment gyms and other uses that allow a run-around of the requirements.

I do not want to continue to see local businesses priced out of downtown, and I do not want to see our downtown (and adjacent neighborhoods) continue to become a Swiss cheese of walkable and non-walkable oriented buildings. This creates less opportunities to connect the prosperity of downtown with adjacent neighborhoods, especially neighborhoods in Midtown.

I propose that the City amend the downtown zoning rules to require at least 50% ground floor commercial space on all new building sides and disallow apartment gyms and other common spaces to be counted towards this. Any new apartment units built on the ground floors should also be designed from the outside to be retrofitted into retail. In return for this new downtown requirement, the City should exempt property owners with existing buildings from storefront width requirements on and off of Central until they redevelop or substantially alter their properties. I would also like to see an increase in FAR exemptions for ground floor retail, and possibly an expansion of the size of parking-free units to help even out the additional costs of this extra requirement.

  1. Make neighborhood scale mixed-use development feasible outside of downtown by giving parking relief for developments outside of downtown, and modifying the unit/acre requirements.

Mixed-use development is much better than auto-oriented fast food and strip retail because mixed-use development requires less cars and is more reliant on walk-up traffic. Additionally, mixed-use developments allow for developers to build even more housing for the missing middle and for local retail. The more these fast food restaurants, strip retail development and other car-oriented developments are developed, the more problems with traffic we see. Local businesses get squeezed out. This is not a winning formula for St. Pete’s future. Yet our commercial zoning is based on this strategy.  

The parking required for mixed-use development makes neighborhood mixed-use impossible to develop outside of downtown. The City should allow for an administrative mixed use development parking exemption for buildings that have at least 50% ground floor retail, both inside of downtown and outside of downtown. If it is tied to nearby bus service, that might make sense.

Additionally, 30 units/acre, the current density of many mixed-use districts in St. Pete, is not enough density to create mixed-use. This only equals six apartment units allowed on a typical 10,000-square-foot lot. This is another reason we are seeing a lot of one-story fast food restaurants and strip retail being developed on commercial roads, instead of vibrant mixed-use housing to serve the missing middle.  

St. Pete’s zoning system is obviously broken outside of downtown. We need to work with Forward Pinellas and the local apartment development community to find out what is the appropriate density needed for mixed-use development and zone appropriately. If we get this right, we have the potential to develop a lot more missing middle apartment units.

  1. Allow artist live/work space on most busy streets for a majority of St. Pete neighborhoods.

On or near a majority of Future Major Streets, the zoning code should be amended to allow for live/work artist studios. I want to see a bunch of older homes and other buildings adaptively reused so that artists can actually open up their own artist studios where they live on Future Major Streets.  

With the success of the Warehouse Arts District and Kenwood’s Artist Enclave, I see absolutely no reason why this concept can’t work in many other areas of St. Pete. This would create multiple artist enclaves throughout the entire City, and provide better opportunities for local artists.

  1. Allow for new small ground floor commercial uses and live/work opportunities on many busy streets that currently only allow residential uses.

There should be more opportunities for citizens, rich and poor, to be able to walk to jobs, markets, neighborhood cafes, clothing shops, professional offices, pharmacies and all of their other daily needs without having to pay $9,000 a year to own a car.  

On various Future Major Streets, I would like to see the City staff allow for smaller, neighborhood commercial opportunities such as neighborhood cafes, professional offices, neighborhood retail, small fitness businesses and other neighborhood scale uses that serve St. Pete’s neighborhoods.  

Live/work opportunities should definitely be available. If citizens want to work where they live on a busy street, I am all for it. Additionally, for places such as Midtown, who are we to tell citizens who live on busy streets that they shouldn’t be able to use their homes to also double as side businesses? This seems like a no-brainer to me, to provide additional ways for citizens to make extra income.

  1. Allow a commercial parking requirement exemption for adaptive reuse of all buildings 50 years or older on all Future Major Streets.

The City should create up to a 10-space parking requirement break for adaptive reuse of all buildings 50 years or older for all commercial and industrial uses. Older buildings provide excellent opportunities for local businesses and walkable retail. However, many times local businesses cannot reuse older buildings because they weren’t built with enough parking to meet modern parking requirements.  

While 10 spaces might not seem like a high number, the cost of paving a parking spot is tremendous for a new local business that might also have other expenses like ADA compliance. This could be the make-or-break of a new business opening or not. I think we should let smaller local business decide what parking works for them, not local government.

  1. Create a skinny home/duplex/ADU zoning category and use it behind Future Major Streets and near commercial employment opportunities.

The City staff’s missing middle housing, which are smaller scale housing types geared towards providing more living opportunities than one house on one lot, should be placed behind properties on busy streets and should scale down in intensity block by block behind commercial/mixed use districts. It makes sense to do it this way, because this will give citizens opportunities to seek employment opportunities within a short walking distance from their homes, which saves citizens the estimated $9,000 per year in automobile expenses. Auto-oriented housing will cost citizens an extra $750 per month (plus driving time), which is something the City should strive to avoid for future City planning.

I will reiterate that I am in favor of the 8plexes, 4plexes and other missing middle typologies with proper neighborhood outreach. I am just not in favor them being placed on busy streets where mixed-use development, walkable commercial and live/work opportunities should go for local businesses in the long term. The placement of these housing types needs to be evaluated further.

There is a significantly better opportunity right now for missing middle housing, and that is to look at creating a skinny home/duplex/ADU zoning category. This should be done immediately on the interiors of various neighborhoods to provide four homes on one traditional 5,800-square-foot lot that are all geared towards providing more affordable living opportunities than exist today.  Some neighborhoods, after proper outreach, might even want to overlay their entire neighborhoods in this category to provide a more affordable choice than large lot, large single-family homes.

This skinny home/duplex/ADU concept is very similar to what former Councilman Karl Nurse and former City employee Shaun Amarnani proposed to look at almost three years ago for the South St. Pete CRA on the Housing, Land Use, and Transportation Committee.  Besides KarI Nurse, I sat on that committee with fellow council members Amy Foster, Ed Montanari, and Charlie Gerdes. We all voted 5-0 to advance the concept of smaller lot homes forward, and we still haven’t seen it come to fruition. I am not sure what the holdup is.

Back then we were all very, very worried that new home prices were becoming unaffordable for everyone when they were approaching $400,000 for new homes in the CRA. With almost three years of inaction on this issue, now new home prices are currently exceeding $600,000 in the CRA. I have to believe the Council will probably be even more supportive of this concept if it comes forward again. Let’s get the skinny home/duplex/ADU zoning category created, do the proper outreach, and get some neighborhoods rezoned immediately rather than waiting for another few years on this. This strategy will not only help with housing affordability, it will help provide employees opportunities for walkable employment, and customers for the nearby local business.

Given the crises we are facing, we don’t have that long to wait. We need an affordable plan which includes the thought process of the movement to Complete Neighborhoods today, not two to three years from now. Citizens, I urge you that if these six policy recommendations resonate with you, please make sure to speak up and let your elected officials know. Let’s work together to solve affordability for citizen housing, citizen transportation and local businesses at the same time.

Continue Reading


  1. Avatar

    Wendy Durand

    June 28, 2019at3:34 pm

    I like these ideas Darden.

  2. Avatar

    Georgip Earp

    June 29, 2019at9:54 am

    I agree. Zoning from the 1950s prevented multi-family buildings from being built in residential areas. In built up cities like St Pete, zoning regs need to be rethought.

  3. Avatar

    Rebecca Jamin

    July 4, 2019at8:22 am

    These suggestions need to start being implemented YESTERDAY! There is NO affordable, decent housing in our city. I’ve lived in Historic Kenwood since 1989 and I remember downtown when the sidewalks were rolled up at night. I love the revitalization, but it’s all been geared toward the ‘well to do’, not the everyday, hardworking folks.

  4. Avatar

    Richard Bruce

    July 4, 2019at9:54 am

    The entire article is based on unrealistic vehicle ownership estimate from AAA. Did anyone read the source material? The $9k/yr estimate is based on average cost of new car ownership including; fuel, maintenance, repairs, insurance, licensing, registration, and depreciation (40% of total). Range of estimates are from cost of a small sedan of $6,777 and pickup truck $10,215/yr. Also, estimate is based on using this new vehicle for work related use.

    Ms. Rice’s proposals assume 100% of citizens own a new car for work purchases anew every year. Otherwise, the $9k figure cannot be used. If a car is more than one year old, then the 40% depreciation value cannot be used.

    All of Ms. Rice’s proposals become moot if people would simply buy an used car and keep it for at least ten years.

    Ms. Rice’s proposals support her left-wing politics. Proposals would increase population density without financing taxpayer supported city services. The demographics desired support Democratic Party affiliation. Proposals do not mention tax breaks for increase home ownership for area military members, or police officers, or firefighters, or blue collar workers. She wants to increase businesses that add to everyone’s costs. She wants to force land owners to earn less money by renting valuable space to people who cannot afford current market rates. She want to lower property values by forcing financial inequity in established neighborhood. Simply, if all houses on a block are worth $400k+ and a $100k house is added, will it add or substract from the other values? Ms. Rice lives close to million dollar houses. When low cost housing is built in her neighborhood, then she can start building in other areas.

    Ms. Rice repeatedly mentions artist studios as a economic benefit. At no time in recorded history have small art studios been profitable for the long term. My mother-in-law ran an art gallery in New Orleans. I freely worked in the gallery. I know the business. She stayed in business for four years. Location now sells T-shirts and low cost tourist junk.

    All the businesses mention depend upon discretionary income. Retail cannot survive relying on customers who income come from other retail businesses. No where in the article mentions creating businesses that will build long term wealth in the city. It would be better to have a less dense population that work locally in companies that produce products or services used outside the region. Where is the proposals to replace the stadium with a factory?

    • Avatar

      S. Rose Smith-Hayes

      November 18, 2019at8:24 am

      Thank you Mr. Bruce for another thoughtful point of view. We tend to sometimes plan based on our own status, not necessarily seeing all other points/statuses.

  5. Avatar

    John Vanover

    July 5, 2019at9:45 am

    St. Pete is a very special place. These ideas will make it better and continue the progression toward our branding of an ‘Art’s Oriented’ city.
    I support every effort toward these excellent, and well-thought out, ideas.
    Walkability is the future of many cities in the US, as witnessed by how many municipalities are closing downtown areas and making them pedestrian-only (with almost instantly appearing foot traffic).
    On affordability: let’s not make the same mistake my home town of San Francisco has made; allowing housing prices to reach a level where none of the folks who made it such a special place can afford to live there any longer.

  6. Avatar

    Sonny Hotchkiss

    September 5, 2019at5:31 pm

    This is thoughtful and forward thinking and I appreciate the time taken to delve into the issue of affordability and how it relates to our current zoning and city plan. I’d like the discussion to go one step further. As someone who was born and raised here and has sold over 400 homes in the Tampa Bay area, mostly in St Petersburg, over the last 13 years, I am encouraged when I see more talk and discussion on strategies to fix our affordability crisis. There is a generational shift as the Boomers get older and we start to hear more from the millennial generation (who comprise close to 50% of our home sales locally and nationally) and my generation (X – no one talks about us much lol). I know that I am SICK and TIRED of having to witness old Jim Crow laws affect our beautiful city and it’s people. For decades, laws have been made (or left the way they are) to help preserve the status quo. Many of these laws and rules were created out of hate and are subtly ingrained within our zoning laws, attitudes, neighborhoods and among our residents. I was disgusted when I saw busing stop and a re-segregation of our schools locally (just calling it like I see it). We are currently witnessing the failed approach of the War on Drugs which became a war on people – filling our prison system and destroying a generation of family structure mostly because of marijuana. Recently, I started developing a proposal for a revitalized district – the closest one to downtown — Campbell Park and 13th St Heights – I thought Campbell Heights was a suitable name…the idea would be a TOTAL re imagination of what redevelopment looks like. Creating parks that honor the history of the neighborhood and its people, creating business office space with co-op space with St Pete College that would hold classes and specifically drive traffic there, building new homes with a price point in the low 200’s which with our current interest rates would equal a mortgage cost of $1200-$1300 and building more income-based properties like the Portland, which offers a modern living space at a cost less than what many of the slumlords are charging for rent. At 16th Street and Central we have a massive apartment community going in (that was originally supposed to be affordable) and the land was acquired and developed by an Indiana based real estate developer whose boutique firm has invested in several areas of town as well. Would a local developer have bought and invested in that location? No. Why not? Because of all the darn invisible lines that we created (or were created for us via segregation). As I drove several fellow agents through some of the neighborhoods, some looked scared. I laughed. I was bused as a child and was exposed to people different than me. I’m gay and have faced my share of discrimination as well. I graduated from UF but spent a lot of time in Tallahassee and developed some amazing friendships. Our little-big city needs to confront this elephant in the room! South of Central is NOT BAD. In fact, Campbell Park violent crime rate was one of the lowest in the city – lower than Kenwood, Downtown, Old NE. In my field, I can’t talk about much of this with clients. But here’s my favorite part of this: despite being a Democrat/Liberal, it was the Republican President who devised a way to for MANY of these neighborhoods to be transformed in the same way Darden wants them to be — The creation of Opportunity Zones provided the largest tax break in our history for the most well off institutions or persons and at the same time anti-gentrification rules were built in. The kicker, though, is that it’s left to communities to self-monitor. I propose a 3rd party non profit agency not connected to the city government charged with monitoring responsible development and comprised of a cross section of our city’s diverse population. The city doesn’t have the resources to handle this. There is an amazing example of this working in a town south of LA that was all but forgotten and had succumbed to poverty and reinforcement of segregation. It’s a known fact that a city that embraces & celebrates a diverse and inclusive population, does more to attract big businesses. I call that a “trickle-Up” effect. We need more investment in our opportunity zones. This will help SHIELD us from the upcoming recession. Water Street in Tampa is in an opportunity zone. Let’s do the same here but include all of St Pete, young, old, rich, poor, white, black and all in between. Time to get rid of the invisible lines and create a city where we build one another up, not break each other down. The Tampa Bay area was known recently to have the largest amount of persons on antidepressant drugs (average age around 47 now). We live in paradise and we all deserve to experience a piece of it. I thank the Mayor and Ms. Rice and other members of Council along with local businesses who have devoted so much of their energy to public service. Thanks for reading and I hope I made some sense.

    • Avatar

      S. Rose Smith-Hayes

      November 18, 2019at8:19 am

      Thank you very much for your ‘on point’ comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

By posting a comment, I have read, understand and agree to the Posting Guidelines.

The St. Pete Catalyst

The Catalyst honors its name by aggregating & curating the sparks that propel the St Pete engine.  It is a modern news platform, powered by community sourced content and augmented with directed coverage.  Bring your news, your perspective and your spark to the St Pete Catalyst and take your seat at the table.

Email us:

Subscribe for Free

Share with friend

Enter the details of the person you want to share this article with.