After making history as the first municipality to take advantage of a house bill that allows for a process to create affordable housing on industrially-zoned properties, the City of St. Petersburg hopes to build on its success.
Utilizing the new codified zoning process, city officials – along with county commissioners – recently approved transforming an old lumber yard at 33000 Fairfield Ave. S into 264 affordable apartments. Following widespread praise for the forward thinking and quick action, St. Petersburg is now looking at how other industrially zoned properties could help address the ongoing housing crisis.
During Thursday’s Housing, Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting, City Administrator Rob Gerdes presented a list of 15 properties to city council members that could qualify under the unique process. St. Petersburg adopted strict criteria to align with 2020’s House Bill 1339, and the city is now exploring adjusting procedural concepts in light of a recently passed senate bill.
“There was a lot of concern about balancing job growth opportunities and housing affordability,” said Gerdes of the historical usage of HB1339.
“So, we try to find that sweet spot where we could allow some land to open up for affordable housing, but not that it was so much land that it took away from opportunities for job growth and industrial growth.”
Project criteria under HB1339 include a minimum of five acres and 60 units; a location within two miles of a public or vocational school, one mile of a grocery store and the Pinellas Trail or a city park and a quarter-mile of a PSTA bus line; and a maximum rent or sale price at 120% or below the area median income (AMI), with a 30-year minimum affordability period.
As Councilmember Copley Gerdes noted, four of the 15 identified sites – including the two largest – sit on the west side of St. Petersburg. Gerdes’ District 1 encompasses that area, and he said his constituents want the type of density this process provides.
“This helps move the needle in my district,” said Gerdes. “And I think for the city overall, we’ve got a couple of areas that I think projects want to be done, and developers are trying to find a way to get that done.”
In addition to the previous mechanism, the Florida Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 962. While the governor still must sign it into law, the bill allows a municipality to utilize a parcel zoned for commercial or industrial for a residential project, provided at least 10% of units constitute affordable housing.
In light of SB 962 the city is now considering revisions to the process. The changes could allow developments with a minimum of 30% affordable and workforce units if at least 50% of those units are at or below 80% of the area median income. The provision would only apply to projects with more than 300 units and could also allow space for “accessory-commercial” uses up to 5,000 square feet. Administrator Rob Gerdes said the accessory-commercial usage could provide a project’s residents with a small café or grocery store.
The 30% minimum for affordable and workforce units was the source of much debate. Gerdes explained that it becomes harder to fund projects using state and federal resources once a development crosses that 30% threshold.
“Once you start getting into 40-50%, the amount of subsidy that’s required by the city and county without those other funding sources starts to become prohibitive,” he said. “On the 30%, we do, however, think that you should only be allowed to use this mixed-income provision on larger projects.”
Gerdes said the Fairfield Avenue apartments showed St. Petersburg it is possible to fund 100% affordable and workforce units with no tax credits. That development consists of 264 units, and Gerdes said the city would stipulate that a project must include a minimum of 300 units to qualify for the 30% benchmark.
If a development is below 300 units, it would still have to meet the 100% affordable and workforce unit criteria.
Councilmember Richie Floyd reiterated that he prefers to preserve industrial land for job opportunities but made an exception for the Fairfield Avenue apartments because all the units are affordable or workforce housing.
“As for 30%, I’m not there today,” he said. “That’s too low for me, personally.”
Floyd added that while he expects SB962 to become law, “there is a slight chance we’re getting ahead of ourselves.” Councilmember Brandi Gabbard echoed those sentiments. However, she said she would like to continue identifying more industrial properties under the HB1339 criteria in addition to the 15 presented by Gerdes.
The council members unanimously agreed to wait for the governor to sign SB692 into law, conduct community outreach on the proposed changes, consider the results of an upcoming county land-use study and then bring the item back to the committee before making a final decision.
“I didn’t want this one to take two years like 1339 did,” said Gabbard. “And even though we are going to have the next step of the committee, I still believe that we’ll be able to bring it in for a landing – long before anyone else in the state.”