Mayor Rick Kriseman took to Facebook to drum up backing for what he hopes will be a legacy of his administration.
Kriseman called for a public turnout at the March 14 St. Petersburg City Council meeting to support the Storefront Conservation Corridor Plan.
The plan sets standards for storefront sizes on Beach Drive and Central Avenue from the waterfront to 31st Street. It puts limits on large storefronts most often associated with chain businesses. It includes both land use and zoning changes as well as business assistance and incentives.
A key issue is whether the zoning changes and incentives should be split into two separate proposals or move forward as a package.
After an attorney representing downtown property owners asked for more time to provide input, city council members reversed an earlier decision and voted last week to handle the plan in two parts. The council is scheduled to vote this Thursday on the incentives and hold a public hearing and vote April 18 on the zoning changes.
On Facebook, Kriseman called the city council move to revise its previous action “unusual.” He said breaking the plan into two parts would delay its implementation and water down its effectiveness.
“We really feel like these two pieces work hand in hand together,” said Jessica Eilerman, the mayor’s small business liaison. “The incentives are helpful right now, but long term we need to have these land use and zoning portions as part of the solution, both now and in the future.”
The plan has been in the works for two years, with community meetings and other public outreach, and it’s won the backing of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, among other groups.
But some of the largest property developers and building owners are not engaged with the Chamber, Council Member Darden Rice said at last week’s meeting. “It forces us to do extra work to reach these people.”
Reaching out to property owners is different than talking to tenants, said Council Member Brandi Gabbard, who is a real estate broker.
“For me it is incredibly important that I hear their voice and understand what their concerns are specifically,” Gabbard said at the March 7 council meeting.
The council vote to break the plan into two parts is not about disregard for small businesses or killing the plan, Gabbard said in her own Facebook post on Tuesday.
“This is simply about getting incentives on the streets and into the hands of those who need them while taking the time to listen to the property owners who are most affected by the rezoning,” Gabbard said. (See her full statement below.)
Alan DeLisle, city development administrator, told council members that some of the property owners now asking for more time to provide input previously met with the mayor and signed off on the plan.
“They said they loved it, they’ve never seen anything better than this,” DeLisle said. “We’re stunned and shocked that at the last minute they come to the council instead of coming to us with their concerns. We would have listened when those concerns were issued.”
The plan won’t work without dealing the zoning issues, he said.
“If you don’t implement the zoning piece of it then you’ve lost any ability to protect what we’re trying to protect — the authenticity and the ability for small businesses to maintain small spaces,” DeLisle said. “You’re going to have to spend an enormous amount of money without the zoning changes to preserve what we have today.”
Council Member Amy Foster said postponing a vote on the zoning changes for more discussion would lead to a better result.
“I believe you are scared if we get the grant program, we won’t approve the zoning,” Foster said. “I didn’t hear from any of my colleagues [in an earlier meeting] that we don’t intend on approving the zoning as well, but we want additional time for people to give input.”
On his Facebook post, headlined “Save Our Storefronts,” Kriseman asked people to come to the next council meeting at 3 p.m. March 14 to tell the council to pass the plan in one piece and “keep the vibe alive.”
Here’s the full statement Gabbard posted on her Facebook page:
In response to the community concern circulating around council’s decision last week to separate the Storefront Conservation Corridor Program into two parts and vote on them separately, I want to be very clear as to my personal reasoning for this vote. This is long so I apologize in advance but if it were short it probably wouldn’t need a response!
For a frame of reference for those who may not know what this is about, here one of the most recent articles about the plan. https://stpetecatalyst.
First of all, let me be very clear that there are two parts to this plan. One is an incentive program that would help out small businesses with funding from the city to invest into their businesses. This will support them in achieving the growth they need for long term sustainability against the rising costs of staying on Central Ave and Beach Dr. This money was allocated in the 2019 budget back on October by council and we have been emphatic that we want this part of the plan to move forward. I don’t believe myself or my colleagues have been anything but supportive of financial assistance to keep small businesses in downtown. We want this money on the streets NOW!
The second part of the plan is not as cut and dry and while I give the Mayor and staff huge accolades for being forward thinking and negotiable with the plan, this is a rezoning of Beach Dr and Central Ave all the way out to 31st St. A plan like this has NEVER been implemented anywhere before. As I have said, rezoning is very scary for property owners and can instantly either increase or decrease their property values and long term investment potential. While we have engaged business owners all along the two year process, property owners have been a little slower to come to the table. That being said, they are here now and are expressing concern. The property owners are not saying that they do not like the plan and that they don’t want it to pass. What they are asking for is a little more time to thoroughly review the plan. The first time that the rezoning was presented to the entire council was on January 31st (about 6 weeks ago) in a committee meeting. At this time a concerned group of property owners have requested we delay the final vote on the rezoning until April 18th so they can have time to present their concerns. I felt this was only fair to allow all affected voices to be heard and therefore last Thursday I made a motion to delay the zoning ONLY until April 18th. Council voted in support of waiting while also voting in a subsequent motion to move the incentive program forward at the next meeting.
This is not about disregard for our small businesses or even about killing an entire plan. This is simply about getting incentives on the streets and into the hands of those who need them while taking the time to listen to the property owners who are most affected by the rezoning. That is it. Government is told all the time that we don’t take the time to listen. Well, that is exactly what your council has decided to do. Listen! I hope that everyone else will too!