ST. PETERSBURG — Dozens of residents showed up to City Hall earlier this month, passionate for and against a city proposal that would allow some inner-city owners of single-family homes to turn them into or build up to four residences.
The city identified 2,895 properties in the city’s core where that could happen. Depending on the size of the lot, those single-family homes could be remodeled into apartments or razed to make way for a duplex, triplex or fourplex, while still maintaining the neighborhood’s design standards.
Increasing the density could be achieved many different ways. For example, a single-family home could get converted into a duplex, while the property owner adds an apartment above the garage, creating three separate residences.
The City Council will hold a vote on the proposed zoning changes on March 23. If approved, they would go into effect immediately.
Those in favor said the change could bring about more affordable rental options, especially for younger and elderly residents, in a city in desperate need for more housing. Those against expressed fear of more parking congestion and the demise of neighborhood character, particularly in nationally and locally recognized historic neighborhoods. They questioned why the city isn’t increasing density in other areas first.
City Development Administrator James Corbett said the changes simply would provide options for property owners, not mandates. And the four-units — which is the max per building, if the lot size even allows that many units — are exactly that: a maximum.
“It’s giving those property owners the option if they want it to develop their property either by modifying it or building something to have additional units,” he said. “But if I live in my home and this zoning changes, and I just want to keep living in my home the way that it is, it doesn’t require me to do anything. It’s an option.”
What is being proposed and why?
St. Petersburg has been on a growth spurt. Housing supply cannot keep up with demand in a built-out city surrounded by water. Conversations began in 2017 about increasing density.
The city added 873 net residences in 2021 and 678 the year before. It projects a need for 1,035 new residences a year with moderate growth, and 1,550 if population growth is robust.
To help with the supply, the city wants to encourage construction of more “middle housing,” which is smaller, multiunit or clustered housing that encourages walking, biking and transit use. Think duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, courtyard apartments, bungalow courts, townhouses and live/work units that are compatible in scale and design with single-family homes.
Any conversion under the new zoning proposal would have to conform to design standards. It could be no taller or wider than a two-story, single-family home: 24 feet maximum height and 40 feet maximum width.
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Would my property be affected?
The city is seeking to change the zoning of certain properties in what it describes as “traditional neighborhoods.” They include those built from the 1920s to the 1950s with homes close together, without driveways, instead making use of alleys and street parking. More suburban-styled neighborhoods, such as Lakewood Estates, don’t have those characteristics, so homes there are not eligible.
This kind of added density isn’t allowed in the designated coastal high-hazard areas susceptible to storm surge. That excludes neighborhoods such as Shore Acres, Snell Isle, Riviera Bay, Bartlett Park, most of Coquina Key and most land along the coastline.
That leaves neighborhoods in the core of the city. Eligible properties have to be within 175 feet of main thoroughfares, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, 16th Street, 22nd Street, 49th Street and 22nd Avenue, 30th Avenue and 38th Avenue.
The lots also need to have direct access to a public, passable alley. That would be where parking would go.
“It really was based off of, where does this make sense?” said Corbett.
See if your property qualifies with this interactive map.
What is the City Council voting on?
There are two changes tied into one: A map amendment and a text amendment.
The map amendment is what most speakers at City Hall addressed. It identifies eligible properties.
The text amendment allows for the same kind of changes along First Avenue North and South, as well as Central Avenue. Most of what’s there now is commercial property, but the occasional single-family home would be eligible for conversion into up to four residences.
There’s also three changes that come with that amendment, which were made after the first public hearing March 2. They require one parking space for each residence added, garbage cans for lots with three or more units and the paving of alleys behind each property to the closest street. That cost would fall to the owner, not the city.
Will this spur immediate multifamily redevelopment?
That question was asked at the first public hearing. Liz Abernethy, the city’s planning and development services director, said she’s received two inquiries from developers interested in the changes.
One way to predict is to look at history.
In 1977, the city changed its zoning to no longer allow accessory residences, such as garage apartments and mother-in-law suites as part of a national trend. Thirty years later, they changed the rules again to allow them in most of the city. Since 2007, 285 have been constructed with 86 of those built last year.
“Reality is that all 3,000 are not going to be, you know, we’re not going to see duplexes pop up on 3,000 parcels when this passes,” Corbett said.
Many of the neighborhoods with homes that could be rezoned already have multifamily buildings. Abernethy said many of those were built 100 years ago, before there were zoning codes.
“This is replicating a development pattern that is part of the fabric of our community,” she said.