A plan to bolster redevelopment across an expansive swath of Lealman – a historically underserved, unincorporated community bordering St. Petersburg – is moving forward.
The Comprehensive Plan amendment would establish three mixed-use corridor designations and affect zoning for nearly 169 acres in the community redevelopment area (CRA). Pinellas County Commissioners offered their tentative approval at a public hearing Tuesday.
The three designations include mixed-use corridors supporting neighborhood parks, local trades and commerce. Scott Swearengen, long-range planning manager, said the initiative would incentivize housing development while allowing for much-needed commercial uses and job creation.
“We want to start to see an established, cohesive character along these corridors,” Swearengen said. “Where people really start to identify that, ‘I’m in Lealman; this is an important corridor in Lealman.'”
Over 30,000 people live in the community, and many lack sufficient housing, transportation, grocery and other retail options. However, uplifting the burgeoning city has become a “passion project” for some local leaders.
Jeremy Heath, past chairman of the CRA, told the Catalyst in May that Lealman has seen more progress in the last 18 months than the previous five years combined.
Swearengen told commissioners that the proposed land use changes would support low-to-mid-rise, street-oriented buildings with “activated” retail and public spaces. The corridors would also feature wider sidewalks and pedestrian amenities.
He said the neighborhood park designation is mostly along 54th Avenue, from 45th Street to 34th Street North. Haines Road and 28th Street North would feature most of the zoning supporting trade.
County officials would implement mixed-use commercial corridors along 34th Street (U.S. Highway 19) and the Haines Road-54th Street-28th Street North “triangle.” While still considered mid-rises, Swearengen said those buildings “might be a little bit larger in scale.”
“The designations have been prepared specifically to areas within the limits here,” he added. “We worked with the CRA and the CAC (citizens advisory committee) and the residents in order to try and establish these areas.”
Primary commerce zoning would encompass over 93.4 of the 168.6 acres. Supporting neighborhood parks would cover 36.5, and officials would dedicate the remaining 38.7 to support local trades.
All three would promote mixed uses outside residential neighborhoods. Swearengen noted that is the first phase of a plan that could expand to other areas in Lealman.
“Those are primary corridors in the CRA,” he said. “Those are the ones we wanted to tackle first.”
He explained that the form-based code is intentionally broad and enables most current and future uses. Swearengen said the updated zoning would allow up to five-story buildings, although that depends on lot size, parking requirements, stormwater standards and other factors.
He said the goal is for developers and property owners to find creative solutions. While Swearengen will present further details at an August meeting, he noted that officials dedicated a code section to “neighborhood manners.”
“You need to have good manners when you’re building in a residential zone,” he added. “So, we require additional setbacks when you’re abutting residential.”
Heath gave commissioners what he called his “Oscars speech.” While he enthusiastically appreciated the land-use changes, Heath would like to see allowances for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in Lealman.
He said the small living quarters adjoining an existing home would provide affordable housing to those in need, and a supplemental income for property owners. St. Petersburg officials have recently updated zoning to allow for more ADUs, and Heath suggested commissioners include that in the land use plan’s second phase.
“I’d like to see what that might look like,” said Chair Janet Long. “When you come back and present to us, please include that so that we can look at the whole picture …”
Commissioner Charlie Justice, a longtime, vocal Lealman proponent, credited Heath for his work and thoughtful insight regarding the CRA. Long similarly thanked Justice for making the community a priority.
State and regional agencies will now review the proposal before a public adoption hearing in August. Commissioners will vote on the land use changes and companion zoning amendments at a final hearing in December.