When a local government in Florida is about to take a major vote on whether to hinder more development or facilitate more development, guess which side is more likely to come out on top?
Even in proudly progressive, sustainability-minded St. Petersburg, the safe bet is that the developers will get most of what they want. The latest proposal is a hugely consequential one: whether to allow more residential development density in the roughly 40 percent of the city deemed highly vulnerable to storm surges in a Category 1 hurricane.
City Council members are scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote to amend the city’s so-called comprehensive plan on Oct. 8 to remove restrictions on more residential development in what is officially designated the “Coastal High Hazard Area” of the city. Federal scientists in 2016 nearly doubled the size of that area in St. Petersburg, and city officials have been working to ease the restrictions since.
“There’s a lot of denial in the economic development and planning worlds in local governments because they don’t want to accept a really harsh reality – that we have to really re-think how we build and where we build,” said James Scott of the Suncoast Sierra Club, which opposes the plan.
If you’re new to this debate or want to learn more, check out this episode of Political Party. It features a freewheeling discussion of the pros and cons with St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce Advocacy Manager Matt Lettelleir and Suncoast Sierra Club Executive Committee Chair Scott.
Lettelleir and other advocates of the new Coastal High Hazard Area plan say failing to allow more residential density in areas of the city like Maximo, Old Southeast, Carillon and Gateway, would lead to more gentrification of African-American neighborhoods and less opportunity for developing affordable housing.
“The folks that are driving this have never been big proponents of affordable housing or very much against gentrification. I find it cynical that those issues have been brought to bear,” Scott said. “In the beginning it was never about that. It only became about that when the votes weren’t there.”
Lettelleir said limiting the areas of St. Petersburg open to high density residential development uld inevitably drive up demand and property prices in higher areas of the city, including predominantly African-American areas.
“That’s 41 percent of the city that you can’t now redevelop, you can’t increase density, which we all know makes things more affordable for people,” he warned. “You wouldn’t have the ability for our city to grow in that 41 percent.”