ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council on Thursday approved allowing owners of nearly 3,000 properties in the urban core to turn them into up to four residences.
The sweeping zoning change is intended to increase housing in a water-locked city experiencing a growth spurt. After 2½ hours of impassioned remarks, most from residents who were adamantly against the changes, the council approved the change in a 7-1 vote.
The City Council also approved 5-foot minimum setbacks for affected properties. The change goes into effect immediately.
“What I’ve come to learn over the five, six years of being here is that we all agree we need housing, we just don’t want it in our neighborhoods,” said City Council chairperson Brandi Gabbard. “And that is not right. We need to be a diverse place.”
Ed Montanari was the sole no vote. He tried to exempt properties in local or national historic districts from the new zoning category, but that vote failed on a tie.
“I can’t support this NTM-1 zoning that can damage neighborhoods in our city when we have all this space we can build on right now,” he said.
The vote was the culmination of a yearslong effort to meet the city’s rising demand by creating more “missing middle housing,” which are clustered duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, garage apartments and mother-in-law suites that fit in with the surrounding neighborhood’s character.
But the proposed change was met with fierce resistance from residents who anticipate more traffic congestion and decreased property values. Many residents and their neighborhood associations rallied against the proposal, creating petitions and putting up signs and banners against it.
They fear that more density will lead to the demise of neighborhood character and that developers will target eligible properties and build them out for maximum profit. They questioned why the city is not increasing density elsewhere instead of in established neighborhoods.
“If you pass this, you are not representing our city residents and should not hold the position you do,” said Diana Collum, who owns Crescent Lake Family Dentistry, where banners and signs against the zoning are on display for passersby.
Those in favor say the construction or renovation of more units could help with housing supply and provide more attainable housing that lessens dependency on cars and may be more affordable.
“It’s a reasoned, thoughtful approach,” said Jason Mathis, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership. “It’s a way to add some additional density in a way we can measure and see what happens.”
According to the city clerk, 74 speakers were against the changes and 19 were in favor.
Members of Preserve the Burg asked for a compromise: Require each parcel in historic districts to be reviewed on a case-by-base basis by the Community Planning and Preservation Commission. City attorney Michael Dema said that commission is limited to local historic landmarks, not national, and is not set up to be regulatory. That would require an ordinance change and need more “robust debate.”
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City development administrator James Corbett spoke on behalf of Mayor Ken Welch at Thursday’s meeting.
“Increasing demand for missing middle housing pushes cities and counties nationwide to rethink solutions for first-time homebuyers, smaller families, couples, retirees, aging adults with disabilities,” he said. “We believe this housing initiative will better position those families to better find a new place to call home in the city of St. Petersburg.”
To many in City Hall, including Welch, the zoning measure brings the city back to its roots. Welch said earlier this week that the Gas Plant neighborhood where his family hails from was mixed-use and multifamily. The neighborhoods whose perimeters are subject to rezoning already have those types of housing.
The measure is not billed as an affordable housing solution, but rather as a supply issue. Many speakers said the zoning change won’t do much to address affordability.
“The measure comes without any affordability requirements, nor extended rights for tenants in the future homes that would be built,” said organizer Karla Correa of the St. Petersburg Tenants Union. “Without incorporating these crucial components, this can hardly be considered a win for affordability, and is of no interest to working people currently drowning in the rising tide of our city’s so-called ‘growth.’”
St. Petersburg limited its zoning changes to properties that met four criteria: They must not be in areas susceptible to storm surge; they must be within 175 feet of a major street; they must have an alley; and they must be in traditional neighborhoods, which tend to be older, more close-knit and do not have driveways in front. The affected properties are on the perimeter of neighborhoods.
You can find affected properties with this interactive map.