While Senate Bill 102 – known as the Live Local Act – increases state affordable housing funding, it also strips regulatory powers from city and county governments.
At the July 27 Committee of the Whole meeting, St. Petersburg City Council members heard how the recently enacted legislation will impact affordable housing initiatives. It eliminates public hearings and places approval authority in the hands of administrators, who must strictly follow state standards.
After the update, council members brainstormed potential solutions to circumvent land use, height and density regulation preemptions. City attorney Michael Dema concluded the discussion by suggesting they “manage expectations.”
“I’m just wondering how do we turn this into a good thing that keeps St. Pete special,” said Councilmember Gina Driscoll. “But work to our advantage in increasing the housing supply, which we all know is very much needed.”
SB 102 states that municipalities must authorize any multifamily and mixed-use developments in commercial, industrial or mixed zoning areas if 40% of the residential units are affordable for 30 years. Local leaders must also provide the highest allowable density in that area.
In addition, administrators must permit the maximum height for a commercial or residential property within one mile of a proposed development. Corey Malyszka, zoning official manager, said that would allow a developer to build a 300-foot tower, or 25 to 30 stories, within a mile radius of downtown.
Driscoll noted that the area extends to the historic Old Northeast neighborhood to the north and the northern tip of Coquina Key to the south.
“To say you can build a 300-foot building on 4th Street North next to someone’s house is kind of scary,” Malyszka said. “We can also look at compatibility standards and design standards, as well as parking standards.”
Dema told the council that administrators could still apply criteria regarding stormwater, traffic, ingress, egress and any restrictions not encompassing land use, height and density. However, Councilmember Ed Montanari recalled the recent approval of a project with no onsite parking and called that aspect worrisome.
The Live Local Act amends language from House Bill 1339, which allows affordable housing in otherwise impermissible areas. City officials received statewide acclaim for becoming the first to implement the legislation in 2021.
Amy Foster, housing and neighborhood services administrator, said HB1339 allowed the highly debated Palm Lake Christian Church development to move forward in March. SB102 eliminates those residential zoning allowances.
Foster said the previously approved project would continue as the council approved it before the new legislation. While the Live Local Act’s 40% affordable unit threshold improves upon HB 1339’s 30%, it reduces area median income (AMI) restrictions.
Previously, city officials mandated that developers reserve at least half of the affordable units for those making less than 80% AMI. SB 102 only requires a 120% limit – or roughly a $73,000 annual income for a one-person household.
“We don’t want developers to just take advantage of these changes provided by Senate Bill 102,” Foster said. “We’re excited about some of these things, but we still want to get those lower-income units.
“I will tell you that developers are reaching out to us right now. We’re holding people at the door …”
New income restriction concerns emerged at the July 21 discussion on the former Raytheon site’s redevelopment. However, SB 102 also eliminated those extensive public hearings to streamline the approval process.
Montanari noted that the meetings allowed residents to voice their opinions on housing developments and interact with elected officials. Chair Brandi Gabbard would like to see a new public notification procedure.
Multiple council members favored implementing an appeal process requiring developers to go before the city council for small infractions, like an improperly placed dumpster. Dema warned that the bill only requires administrative approval.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this,” he added. “We’re going to consider that and look at it – I just think it’s an uphill battle …”
City attorneys and administrators will consider the council’s feedback and present proposed ordinance changes at a future meeting.