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Development in the Coastal High Hazard Area comes back in spotlight

Megan Holmes

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The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights. Click the play arrow above to watch the full video.  

On this episode, Anne Pollack, a land-use and commercial real estate attorney at Fletcher, Fischer Pollack P.L., joins Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, and Joe Hamilton, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst to talk about a proposed change to development in the Coastal High Hazard Area (CHHA).

While reopening continues, Steinocher breaks down the number of new COVID-19 cases. The 14-day average of daily new cases now sits at 32.2, and the percent positive hovers at 2.24 percent. Monday brought 40 new cases and as of 11 a.m. Tuesday, 41 new cases and four deaths were reported. Steinocher notes that testing is also increasing rapidly, with a few recent days above 2,000 tests.

Fletcher, Fischer Pollack, which is located in the Rising Tide Innovation Center, moved to St. Pete in 2017. Pollack and her partners are highly entrepreneurial, and are a part of a number of businesses and organizations within the city. Pollack is on the executive committee of the St. Petersburg Chamber and chair of the Public Policy Committee. An important issue that the committee has advocated for will go before the St. Petersburg City Council this week: A change to development standards in the CHHA.

The CHHA is the area most likely to be affected by wave action during a storm surge – below the elevation of a Category 1 storm surge line. Periodically, FEMA studies the area and changes its boundaries based on new projections of sea level rise, tides and wave patterns. In 2016, the Coastal High Hazard Area went from covering 22 percent to 41 percent of the city, including many of the areas of the city that multiple administrations have targeted for redevelopment, including the Innovation District; The Skyway Marina District; 4th St and Martin Luther King Jr. St, north of 54th Avenue N; and the Carillon/Gateway area.

Currently, St. Petersburg’s Comprehensive Plan bars consideration of increased density approvals in the CHHA. When the area was 22 percent of the city, Pollack says, it mostly encompassed public park land and single family homes, areas that were not highly considered for redevelopment. Now that the area has increased to 41 percent, it includes major redevelopment areas and economic drivers, such as Jabil headquarters and Echelon Town Center.

The city is looking to change the Comprehensive Plan to allow increases in density in the CHHA, if the development meets four of 12 resiliency and safety criteria established for that area. Pollack says new measures have also been included that require the project to meet needs in a targeted economic area, or comply with integrated sustainability action plan, or replace buildings and structures that are not up to flood and wind standards.

The change would provide no blanket approval of increases in density, Pollack explains, but rather each development must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Pollack says these new standards would incentivize development of significantly more resilient construction and require far more planning for a project to come into the CHHA.

Steinocher and Pollack discuss the considerations of gentrification that are associated barring increased density in 41 percent of the city, areas that have traditionally been centers for economic activity. Pollack says it’s possible that the city could see gentrification of other, higher elevation areas that are already developed and in some areas include lower income neighborhoods.

If increased building costs in the CHHA are not accompanied by increased density, Pollack says, development will be more expensive because developers can’t make up for the costs associated with increased resiliency. She says that applies for both commercial and residential districts, which are often allowed at higher densities in the same areas. She explains that these concerns are not just for new developments, but businesses that are already in the CHHA, which relocated there as the city began to pour resources into the area, such as those in Skyway Marina District.

To learn more about the CHHA, visit St. Pete Catalyst‘s previous coverage on the topic here.

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