The state Department of Community Affairs, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council all agree: A 1 million-square-foot development proposed by electronics manufacturer Jabil Circuit in north St. Petersburg will worsen traffic so much that the company should make millions of dollars worth of road improvements. But St. Petersburg officials would rather stick taxpayers and motorists with the cost.
The city wants to assume oversight of Jabil's proposed Gateway Centre Development of Regional Impact, a project scheduled to have up to 1 million square feet of office, light industrial and retail space on 94 acres north of Gandy Boulevard and east of U.S. 19. If the city's in charge, it can do whatever it wants — including letting Jabil avoid paying for road improvements the other agencies say are needed.
Under Florida's growth management law, the Department of Community Affairs normally has oversight of DRIs, which are projects so big they have a regional, not just local, impact. But last year the Florida Legislature approved SB 360, which gutted growth management and should have been vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist. One of the law's many flaws is it allows developers in already dense urban areas to avoid state oversight of large projects.
Thursday, the St. Petersburg City Council is scheduled to vote to rescind the Gateway Centre DRI, effectively eliminating state review of Jabil's plans. A second vote would implement a new 15-year development agreement between the city and Jabil that would allow the company to pay for only $1.8 million worth of road improvements — not the $6 million worth the state and regional agencies say is needed.
The $1.8 million would build just four turn lanes. That, says Jabil, is "sufficient," and the city staff agrees. But that's far from sufficient in the opinion of the state and regional agencies that reviewed Jabil's traffic study. They say a quarter-mile section of already F-rated Gandy Boulevard must be widened to eight lanes to accommodate the additional Jabil traffic and that new traffic signals and turn lanes also are required to keep the road from being further degraded.
The point of a concurrency requirement in Florida's growth management law was to force developers instead of taxpayers to pay the cost of improving roads to handle the traffic their new developments generate. The state and regional agencies reviewing the Gateway Centre DRI are attempting to place that burden where it belongs — on Jabil. In a desperate attempt to create jobs that may never materialize, St. Petersburg is poised to shift the burden to taxpayers.
It isn't clear whether St. Petersburg can act Thursday to spare Jabil, because a circuit court judge has declared SB 360 unconstitutional.
Jabil also has already been promised $34 million in tax breaks in exchange for creating new jobs. That's more than enough from public assistance. And if this additional handout is approved, one day frustrated motorists stuck in longer traffic jams on Gandy Boulevard can thank the St. Petersburg City Council.