Developers working on certain projects will now have to enter a community benefits agreement.
On Thursday, the St. Pete City Council unanimously passed a community benefits agreement program following a public hearing. CBAs are used by many cities as a tool for economic equity. It creates a process that takes into account the social and community impact of a real estate development plan. The program was first introduced earlier this year.
The proposed program for St. Pete establishes a series of community benefits for projects that involve public-private partnerships. Under the plan, it would affect projects that receive more than 20% of public assistance, which can be in the form of incentives, for the overall construction cost of the project, or $10 million in assistance, regardless of construction costs.
“It’s nice to finally get full support on the CBA,” Councilmember Lisa-Wheeler Bowman said, stating the council has received 310 emails in support of moving forward with the CBA.
“When we started this conversation months ago, there was pushback and questions as to the benefits for our city, and as we sit here today, it’s evident we have the support not that only of the community, but also county leaders,” she said.
Councilmember Darden Rice, a St. Pete mayoral candidate, said the CBA addresses two of the biggest existential threats in St. Pete – gentrification and inequality – and that the CBA is a celebration and not a burden.
“We’re not going to be able to look in a rearview mirror for answers, we’ve got to look ahead. We need new approaches,” Rice said.
While the council shared the same consensus to push forward the ordinance, Councilmember Ed Montanari had some hesitation.
“We don’t want to kill the golden goose,” Montanari said, stating he doesn’t want the agreement to stifle projects in the city, citing an example of places needing redevelopment such as Tangerine Plaza.
However, he acknowledged the extensive committee process the item has undergone.
Councilmember Robert Blackmon, also a St. Pete mayoral candidate, echoed that there were some concerns, but the community has made it very clear that the benefits outweigh any burdens.
Under the plan, developers would hold community meetings in the neighborhood impacted by their project to get residents’ input.
The program would also require the creation of a CBA advisory council to advise city staff about the requirement. The advisory council would include eight community members and one city council member. Although there would be an advisory council created, it would not diminish the authority of the city council, which would have the final say on the agreements.
The city and developer would then negotiate a community benefits agreement that could involve direct investment in the neighborhood, such as park improvements or affordable housing.
A project involving multiple dwelling units with at least 30% of the dwelling units designated as affordable or workforce housing may be exempt. However, a Tropicana Field redevelopment project is ineligible for any exemptions, according to city documents.
All annexation projects are exempt and it does not apply to city-led projects.
Councilmember Gina Driscoll reminded the council members and the public that the CBA can be modified over time.
“Once we get going with this and put it into action and implement with a project, we can see what’s working and what’s not and bring it back, and make any adjustments that need to be made,” Driscoll said.