Are too many apartments being built in South Tampa?

Residents are concerned about straining resources and difficulty evacuating during a hurricane.
OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times 
Council member John Dingfelder during a city council meeting at the old city hall in downtown Tampa, Florida on Thursday, June 6, 2019.
OCTAVIO JONES | Times Council member John Dingfelder during a city council meeting at the old city hall in downtown Tampa, Florida on Thursday, June 6, 2019. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Dec. 23, 2020|Updated Dec. 23, 2020

TAMPA — In the dozen years that Stephanie Poynor has lived in her neighborhood south of Gandy Boulevard, she’s seen it change into a hotbed for new apartment complexes.

Along with that development has come increased traffic, straining a traditionally working-class neighborhood that still doesn’t have the grocery stores, gas stations and other amenities of more affluent areas to its north. By her count, nearly 3,500 multi-family units have been built or approved since 2016.

Her group, Stop Overbuilding South of Gandy has lobbied the city in recent years to slow the growth, which they say could also threaten public safety if residents can’t evacuate quickly during a hurricane.

“If we get a hurricane, we’re going to be in big trouble,” Poynor said.

Her arguments have found a receptive ear among City Council members, especially John Dingfelder, who successfully urged his colleagues to press the administration of Mayor Jane Castor for a temporary one-year moratorium on new multi-family development in the area in early December.

For Dingfelder, whose motion would extend the moratorium on rezonings and comprehensive plan amendment changes north to Bay to Bay Boulevard, the crucial issue is public safety.

“We’ve got a situation where there has been a tremendous amount of multi-family construction over the last several years, and that’s just going to exacerbate any type of evacuation should that day come,” he said.

Bill Carlson, who represents South Tampa, agreed.

“Councilman Dingfelder’s proposal reflects the anger and frustration of many people south of Gandy who want better planning and improved infrastructure. They feel like their needs have been ignored for years,” Carlson said.

Steve Michelini, a land-use and zoning consultant, said the data doesn’t back up a need for a moratorium.

“There is no crisis,” Michelini said, adding that infrastructure improvements like streets, sewer and water can’t be waived.

The main problem for south peninsula residents during a hurricane evacuation is Pinellas residents driving west across the bay on the Gandy Bridge, not overcrowding, Michelini said.

Castor administration officials had included a possible moratorium among many possibilities in an October workshop. But at the Dec. 3 council meeting, they backed away from the idea, saying possible legal challenges and existing tools made such a temporary development ban unnecessary.

Council members approved Dingfelder’s idea anyway, by a unanimous vote, asking the administration to return with language outlining a moratorium at the council’s Feb. 4 meeting.

“We were like ‘What the what?’” Poynor said when she heard Castor officials say they couldn’t support a moratorium. “I’m glad (council members) did it anyway.”

Castor’s final position on any moratorium depends on the outcome of a study of growth and development study that’s currently underway, said Castor spokeswoman Ashley Bauman.

One thing everyone agrees on is the need for a new review of the city’s comprehensive land-use plan, especially in light of new flood maps that put much more of the peninsula at risk of storm surge and flooding. That’s part of the ongoing effort, Bauman said.