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Tampa City Council pumps brakes on apartment ‘moratorium’

Council members, under intense pressure from developers, decided Thursday a citywide slowdown on big apartment complexes isn’t necessary after all.
Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes was unanimously elected City Council chairman on Thursday. He voted for a failed effort Thursday to pause apartment development in some areas of the city.
Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes was unanimously elected City Council chairman on Thursday. He voted for a failed effort Thursday to pause apartment development in some areas of the city. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published May 6
Updated May 6

TAMPA — Reversing course from three weeks ago, Tampa City Council members Thursday voted down a pared-back proposed citywide pause on giving developers more leeway to build large apartment complexes, saying more time was needed to wade through the complicated issue.

Several council members said during Thursday’s discussion that they had tired of discussing the controversial subject. That sentiment has been echoed by members of Mayor Jane Castor’s staff, who noted council had considered some sort of moratorium on single-use multi-family housing in certain parts of the city seven times since December.

Council members scrapped a proposed delay, beginning in June, on new density bonuses for developers in certain zoning categories commonly used for apartments, pleasing developers who said it would sour the city’s real estate economy and send the wrong message to investors.

The policy change came after a majority of council members in April supported a city plan to tackle the large uptick in big apartment complexes by imposing a nine-month halt on new rezoning requests. New apartments serve a housing need for a growing city, but the growth in large complexes has left some residents upset about traffic and clogged escape routes during hurricanes.

The council action on Thursday killed the moratorium plan that would have lasted through March 2022.

The mayor’s plan before council members took a strange path since being offered by Castor officials on April 15.

Recently, Mayor Jane Castor came out as opposing the idea, which had been developed by her staff in response to council members’ requests to do something about resident complaints about apartment growth in the South of Gandy neighborhoods.

Related: Tampa moves ahead on slowing down apartment boom

Carole Post, the city’s administrator for development and economic opportunity, argued the correct course now was for the city to make major zoning changes through a comprehensive plan amendment, a year-long process involving the city-county planning commission. That would begin in May.

John Dingfelder, the council member who has championed the South of Gandy residents, said a year is too long to wait. Developers will rush to file rezoning applications “to get the camel’s nose under the tent,” he said.

But Dingfelder’s motion to proceed with a pause with exemptions for apartments along transit corridors and within a quarter-mile walk to those roads— failed by a 4-3 vote.

Both Dingfelder and Council Member Bill Carlson said the Castor plan to extend a moratorium across the city was a “poison pill,” presumably intended to prompt a huge backlash from developers.

Carlson said the issue was becoming “too political” and criticized what he said was a less cooperative attitude among Castor’s senior staff.

Developers have consistently argued against any moratorium, saying that it would hurt investor confidence in Tampa and negatively impact transit corridors, most of which fall into the land-use categories that would fall under the temporary moratorium.

Orlando Gudes, who was unanimously elected City Council chairman earlier Thursday, said the competing interests of concerned residents, developers and new residents to the city who need housing brought “money, power and politics” to the table.

“Someone is going to be disappointed,” Gudes said before the vote.

But he didn’t believe the argument that a 9-month delay in considering rezoning requests would cripple the city.

“Don’t tell me the city of Tampa is going to stop growing,” said Gudes, who voted in favor of the temporary development pause.

But several council members appeared open to finding a solution, at least for the South of Gandy neighborhood. And council members approved further discussion of Dingfelder’s idea at a June 24 workshop.