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St. Pete City Council votes on high-rise near Mirror Lake

Margie Manning

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Mirror Lake (Photo from Google Maps)

The St. Petersburg City Council voted Thursday to allow development of a 21-story mixed-use building near Mirror Lake to move forward.

Cara Florida Properties proposed constructing the building at the southeast corner of 3rd Avenue North and 5th Street North. It would have 10,890-square-feet of commercial space and 270 dwelling units.

According to city planners, there currently are seven apartment buildings at the site, ranging from one to three stories in height, built between 1916 and 1921 and containing a total of 97 apartments.

The project was approved by the city’s Development Review Commission unanimously in December, but the Preserve the ‘Burg organization appealed that decision and dozens of opponents of the project turned out at Thursday morning’s council meeting to ask council members to nix the development.

Preserve the ‘Burg argued the review commission erred in finding the proposed development was compatible with the neighborhood and surrounding adjacent historic resources. During a hearing at the council meeting, opponents also raised concerns about demolishing the existing structures, which they said offer affordable housing.

“This is gentrification with a capital G,” said City Council member Darden Rice, who voted to uphold the appeal and scratch the project.

Other council members said the project meets all existing criteria for developments, and they took issue with critics who said the city was losing the architecture and other characteristics that make it unique.

“If you really believe that you weren’t at Localtopia. You weren’t at the Indie Market,” said City Council Chair Charlie Gerdes. “The energy that makes our city unique is alive and well and growing and attracting people, and that is the reason that people who want to invest in a dream — whether it be a big dream or a small dream — are coming to our city.”

As long as a project follows existing code, the city has an obligation to allow it to move forward or face potential litigation and millions of dollars in damages, said Mayor Rick Kriseman, who weighed in at the end of several hours of testimony and debate.

“As we continue to try to attract business here and developers who are willing to build residential and office, if they don’t have certainty that when they file plans that follow the code that the project is going to get approved, there’s going to come a point in time when they will stop filing those, and our ability to continue to attract business and create jobs is going to impacted by that,” Kriseman said.

City Council members voted five-to-two against a motion to uphold the appeal, a vote that allows the project to move forward.

Rice and Steve Kornell voted in favor of the appeal, while Gerdes and four other council members — Gina Driscoll, Brandi Gabbard, Ed Montanari and Lisa Wheeler-Bowman — voted against the appeal.

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