ST. PETERSBURG — Signs and banners have popped up on street corners warning of a concrete jungle. An online petition has more signatures than properties affected by the proposed changes.
On Thursday, the City Council will hold a vote on whether to allow owners of some single-family homes to turn them into or build up to four residences. There are 2,895 properties identified in the zoning change, which are found on the perimeter of neighborhoods in the city’s core and that are off of main thoroughfares.
The changes may be approved. Mayor Ken Welch is in favor, as he supports measured density increases rather than allowing nearly any lot owner anywhere in the city to build multifamily dwellings, which was floated when he was running for mayor in 2021.
“This is, really, the maximum that I support,” Welch said Monday evening on the first stop of his “City Hall On Tour” at the Walter Fuller Recreation Center in west St. Petersburg.
There, Lake Pasadena Estates resident Patricia Toups brought her concerns to Welch. There are 19 properties up for rezoning in her neighborhood and she said she is concerned that more development will lead to flooding and strains on the sewage system. She was also concerned about the effect on property values.
“Because if you have more places for people to live, it reduces the demand,” she said.
Welch said the infrastructure in place should be able to handle any new development, and that Toups’ property value is likely to increase.
“That’s what happened in Minneapolis,” he said. “Once you’ve added density and given folks the ability to build more on their property, the property values went up.”
City Council members say the strict criteria and other new changes, including requiring at least one parking space for each residence added, are more palatable.
“I don’t think it’ll impact neighborhood character, especially not the way it’s set up today,” said council member Copley Gerdes, who was present at Welch’s event Monday and plans to vote in favor of the changes Thursday. “I would not support this if it went into the neighborhoods.”
Council member Lisset Hanewicz, the former president of Crescent Lake Neighborhood Association, said she’s still listening to feedback and won’t say how she’ll vote.
“I think at the end of the day, what we’re looking at now is a much smaller footprint than what we started with,” she said.
Hanewicz said much of the conversation misses how the zoning changes will bring a variety of housing.
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“Not one thing is going to solve affordable housing, but having a variety of housing allows people in different stages in life to live in different places,” she said.
Hanewicz voted with council members Ed Montanari and Richie Floyd against allowing density in designated historic neighborhoods, but that motion failed.
Floyd said he voted to exempt those neighborhoods because he was following the unanimous recommendation of the city’s Community Planning and Preservation Commission, which is made up of experts. He said he felt similarly about the different housing offered, especially for ownership opportunities.
Floyd believes that as long as housing is created with a profit motive in mind, that housing won’t be created for everyone to have a roof over their heads. The proposed changes don’t change that dynamic, he said, but a single-family home torn down for a duplex allows for two families to live in a home instead of one family in a McMansion.
“People get so worried that they’re going to raze the whole neighborhood,” he said. “It’s already profitable to raze the whole neighborhood and it’s not happening.”
Montanari has had lingering concerns about the zoning changes and said he is probably not going to vote for them. He believes in balancing growth with quality of life, and thinks the city should look at increasing density in places that don’t have much housing now, like the Tyrone Square Mall area.
“There is so much capacity along some of the corridors in our city that just hasn’t been taken advantage of,” he said. “I would like to see some of that capacity be used by people that want to build in our city before we take this next step and start affecting neighborhoods.”
Montanari said he’s flexible when it comes to new ideas, but protecting the character of neighborhoods is a core value. Putting triplexes and quadplexes changes the character of a single-family neighborhood.
“I just want to make sure wherever somebody wants to live in whatever neighborhood they want to live in, if people like the character of their neighborhood, we have to take it very slow when making these changes,” he said. “We have to protect the quality of life that people enjoy.”