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St. Pete City Council kicks off hurricane season with renewed focus on building in flood-prone areas

Margie Manning

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U.S. Navy photo by Jim Books

The St. Petersburg City Council will hold a public hearing this week on a plan that would allow consideration of increased development in parts of the city that are prone to flooding.

The public hearing, scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, June 11, will focus on whether the city should move forward with proposed changes in its comprehensive plan. The changes would allow real estate developers to propose apartments, condos and townhomes in parts of St. Petersburg that could flood during storms, provided the developers comply with tougher building standards.

Developers are currently barred from increasing the number of dwelling units per acre in those areas. Increased density would provide opportunities for more affordable housing in the city, according to proponents, but critics say it could jeopardize public safety.

A companion measure to the proposed changes to the comprehensive plan would set specific building standards. A public hearing on that proposal is expected to be on Aug. 20.

Thursday’s public hearing, which will be during an online City Council meeting, comes just days after the June 1 start of the 2020 hurricane season. But debate over land use in the Coastal High Hazard Area —property below the elevation of a Category 1 storm surge line — has been going on for years.

New maps were created in 2016 that doubled the amount of city land in the area, and it now makes up 41 percent of the city’s geography and includes the Salt Creek area, the Innovation District, USF St. Petersburg, the Skyway Marina District, much of 4th Street North and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street North, Jabil headquarters and Echelon Town Center.

The proposed amendments to the comprehensive plan do not increase density on their own, but allow for consideration of land use plan amendments as long as developers meet four of 12 criteria designed to ensure public safety. Developers still would have to file for approval of individual projects and go through city public hearings and state, county and regional review.

Separate amendments to the city’s land development regulations and building code establish elevated building design standards for multi-family development within the Coastal High Hazard Area and require hurricane evacuation and reentry plans for hotel and multi-family projects.

“These amendments are intended to result in structures which are more resilient to storm surge, sea level rise and wind damage, mitigate for service and infrastructure needs during and immediately following a major storm event, and enable safe re-occupation as quickly as possible following an evacuation,” a staff memo to the city council says.

The city’s Community Planning & Preservation Commission voted last December against recommending the City Council adopt the changes in the comprehensive plan. The Sierra Club Suncoast Group opposes the changes, saying the city instead should encourage public and private investment in higher-elevation area and the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area.

Separately, the city’s Development Review Commission has endorsed the proposed changes in elevated design standards.

City staff members are recommending the council approve both measures.

Information on how to participate in the online public hearing can be found here.

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