Oh, the irony: Hillsborough would kill for St. Petersburg's downtown problem
TAMPA — Hillsborough County would love to have the problem some think St. Petersburg has right now.
As Tampa Bay Times reporter Charlie Frago wrote on Friday, at least one elected official in St. Petersburg fears that their downtown’s boom has come at the expense of the rest of the city and county. And they blame the city’s impact fee structure, which heavily incentivizes growth near the urban center versus other parts of St. Petersburg.
"Essentially what we're doing is subsidizing downtown redevelopment from the rest of the city,” City Council member Karl Nurse said.
For example: A sit-down restaurant is assessed $2,181 per 1,000 square feet, compared with $8,205 in most of the city, an apartment unit costs $972 downtown versus $1,420 in the rest of the city, and condos pay $924 in the downtown and Midtown districts; $1,248 elsewhere.
Meanwhile, across the bay, Hillsborough is desperately trying to push growth toward the county’s existing urban areas. That effort has included enacting the same kind of incentives that Nurse is railing against.
Last month, Hillsborough commissioners approved new mobility fees to replace the existing impact fees. These fees not only charge more for new development than the current system, but the fees get higher the further you get outside the county’s urban cores.
Why? Because Hillsborough wants to stop the kind of sprawl that has proliferated there for decades and has put a tremendous strain on county resources. When a new development or subdivision is built outside the urban areas, it costs a lot of money to service it. It requires new roads, schools, pipes to carry water, bus routes, electric lines, garbage pick up, recreation centers, parks, etc. The more densely populated a neighborhood, the easier it is for the county to service it.
As it is, “redevelopment” and "infill" are key buzzwords in Hillsborough right now, and the goal is to lure people to build in defined urban nodes where infrastructure is already in place, or at least charge developers more if they want to build something that’s going to have a larger footprint on the county.
At least one commissioner has also talked about making changes to Hillsborough’s land use policies to further incentivize growth in existing corridors and prevent more sprawl.
There are plenty of ways St. Petersburg and Pinellas County are different from Tampa and Hillsborough. (You can read about some of them here.) So drawing comparisons to what is happening in St. Petersburg and what Hillsborough is striving for, may not be entirely apples to apples.
Still, it’s quite ironic that as Hillsborough tries to spur the kind of growth that has created St. Petersburg’s flourishing downtown, some people west of Tampa Bay are now questioning that policy. It shows that there are winners and losers whenever government creates incentives. But in this case, it’s an envious problem to have.