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Political Party with Adam Smith: The raging Coastal High Hazard Area debate

Adam Smith



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.”

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  1. Avatar

    Anna Chetlain

    October 7, 2020at3:39 am

    Thank you James Scott, Suncoast Sierra Club! This proposal is common sense counter-intuitive in this time of climate change & indisputable sea-level rise. This appears to be more about extension of the million dollar downtown St Pete condo/loft living with Tampa Bay vista/views than creating “affordable housing”. There are plenty of other areas in St Pete in non-flood zones that can be “developed for affordable housing”.

  2. Avatar

    Georgia Earp

    September 21, 2020at3:44 pm

    I found the discussion illuminating and extremely helpful. I found all previous information on opening up the CHHA confusing. I can’t believe our leaders are considering this proposal. There are so many other ways to address affordable housing and gentrification. The cynic in me doubts that this proposal will help either issue anyway. In addition, there are plenty of other places that are not flood zones to build, along 34th st, and it would great if I-375 were torn down and affordable housing were built there. Finally, at some point, there will be no place to build in St Petersburg, so the argument that no development means no growth and death is not logical. Just look at San Francisco, on another peninsula. Their housing prices continue to grow, and affordable housing is their main problem. Thank you for shedding light on this critical issue!!!

  3. Avatar

    Linda Guy

    September 21, 2020at12:54 pm

    Very good discussion! Please have the next meeting in person! A nice large venue such as Tropicana would allow for social distancing.

  4. Avatar

    David Westmark

    September 21, 2020at10:33 am

    Excellent roll up of this issue that is so pivotal to our city’s future! No one that I’ve heard has mentioned this plan’s potential demotion of the city’s FEMA Community Rating System (CRS) score. This score determines the level of discount property owners earn to reduce their National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) premiums. With a current score of 5, St Pete NFIP customers get a 25% discount. There is a good chance St Pete’s CRS score will be adversely affected by increasing CHHA density. When that happens NFIP premiums will be 5 – 10% higher. A key metric in the score is the number of repetitive loss properties in a jurisdiction. St Pete has among the highest number of repetitive loss properties in Florida and increasing density will only increase that metric. Remember the NFIP is heavily subsidized (socialized) by taxpayers who live nowhere near a flood zone. When its customers suffer an insurance loss, we all pay so they can rebuild and to what good end? The CHHA density changes are vastly contrary to FEMA’s floodplain management objectives. More at https://www.fema.gov/flood-insurance/rules-legislation/community-rating-system .

  5. Avatar

    Bob Stewart

    September 17, 2020at4:59 pm

    Adam – Have enjoyed all of your Political Party programs. Very informative, with mostly well informed participants. Some food for thought…
    As you continue to delve into Florida, Pinellas County and St. Petersburg political affairs, some of the many local subject areas I am sureyou will consider addressing include:
    health care, environmental, cultural (arts), racial issues, educational challenges, as well as, obviously, upcoming political issues after Nov.3. And, oh yes, the future for the Rays and the Trop.
    Glad you are offering this program. Keep up the good work.
    ps – How can you resist remaining a non partisan, objective host on such a wide range of topics? Just curious.

  6. Avatar

    Bill Dahl

    September 16, 2020at5:59 pm

    Good podcast & hosting by Adam Smith. While I have a great deal of skepticism regarding the development push with little regard for the latest science or emerging national policies on “managed retreat”, this podcast offers good insight to both arguments for the many confused citizens just now paying attention.
    Thank you…please keep more healthy debates coming. Great job Adam Smith!

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