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Development update: City Council moves two projects forward amid pandemic

Megan Holmes

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The St. Petersburg City Council moved two projects forward during their first meeting held virtually via Zoom last week. Council members approved an extension of the due diligence period for a site at 600 26th Street South and moved forward a six-story building with 10 dwelling units and ground floor retail at the corner of 3rd Avenue and 6th Street South in downtown St. Pete.

Significant discussion surrounded the two developments. The proposed development at 3rd Ave  and 6th St S. brought “no” votes from Council members Gina Driscoll, Deborah Figgs-Sanders and Lisa Wheeler-Bowman. The development brought pushback particularly from Driscoll, who represents the development area. She cited negative feedback from existing residents in the neighborhood, and her concern that the development would be out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood.

The development at 600 26th Street South won unanimous approval after nearly an hour of discussion. It is a proposed 14,000 square foot development, of which 5,000 square feet would be devoted to manufacturing, with 2,000 square feet of loft space for use as a craft distillery; 2,000 square feet for artist studios and galleries; an additional 5,000 square feet to be leased as light manufacturing/office space or other allowed uses; and 5,000 square feet for an event space, complete with adequate parking for the facility. This development is particularly controversial because the developer, Orange Belt LLC, was asking for its fourth amendment to the agreement since signing with the city in September 2017.

600 26th St S

According to the developer, because the site is a mitigated brownfield, which has been vacant for 30 years, the development and permitting process has been particularly difficult, significantly extending the proposed 180-day due diligence period over a period of years. Orange Belt LLC has invested more than $200,000 thus far on the site, securing permitting for the site plan, including all underground work for sewer, water, stormwater, landscaping, sidewalks and curbing. According to Orange Belt LLC leadership, the latest delay was caused by the difficulty obtaining approval for the site’s stormwater mitigation plan from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

The developer also cited the need to scan the area for possible hazardous materials, such as buried petroleum tanks, as a further complication to the site’s timeline.

Driscoll expressed reservations at approving yet another extension for the site. She compared the delays seen at the Orange Belt site to two previous projects that were terminated after lengthy extensions, Commerce Park and the vacant lot adjacent to Tangerine Plaza, which TLM Investment Group agreed to lease and develop in 2014. “Is this another situation where we have to cut our losses?” Driscoll asked. “I know we’re not talking apples to apples here, but I think there’s a case for consistency in how we question the feasibility of a project after so many delays.”

City staff and other council members, including Brandi Gabbard, urged Driscoll not to compare the sites. “I give the Johnsons a lot of credit for being a novice commercial developer and tackling something like this,” Gabbard said. “The amount of money that they have personally invested in this already speaks volumes about their commitment.”

“I can’t say at the end of the day the performance was there in the previous projects,” Alan DeLisle, city development administrator said. “That is, are they moving forward with their permits, are they doing the site work? Those are really important elements that we look at from a professional standpoint.”

“In this case, I do see unanticipated challenges related to the site,” DeLisle said. “But I see a strong push to get to the goal line that I did not see in other cases.”

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Wheeler-Bowman said. “We have a company before us needing a little bit more time because we don’t know what’s going to happen.

“That lot has been vacant for over 30 years, nobody wanted to touch it,” she explained. “So if we were going to stop that project right now, we would have to start over with someone else. They have invested over $200,000 … I want this in my district because I know it’s going to create jobs, it’s not going to just be a parking lot.”

City Council Chair Ed Montanari had a message for developers working in St. Petersburg. “We are in unchartered territory here, not just here in St. Petersburg but around the world,” Montanari said. “We want to protect people who want to invest in this city… and I want to send a very clear message, to developers and people that want to do business here in St. Petersburg, that we’re willing to work with you.”

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1 Comment

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    Fletcher Moore

    April 21, 2020at11:26 am

    Does anyone know who the developer proposing the 6-story, 10-unit project at the corner of 3rd and 6th is? Thank you.

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