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Tampa moves ahead on slowing down apartment boom

City Council members, in a close vote, moved forward on an apparent moratorium on single-use multifamily development to begin in June.
Tampa City Hall.
Tampa City Hall. [ Times ]
Published Apr. 15
Updated Apr. 15

TAMPA — What started as a plea from beleaguered residents south of Gandy Boulevard to stem the flow of new apartment construction in their neighborhood has evolved into a proposed citywide pause on multi-family development for certain land-use categories.

Called a “moratorium” by many, the proposal would freeze new permitting from June 1 until March.

Developers have objected, saying the city is pursuing a risky legal strategy that will harm efforts to build dwellings for the rush of new residents to the city. A moratorium would also hurt their finances.

Advocates for the pause say it will allow city and county planners to research and fine tune a final proposal to move forward. They say traffic congestion is already bad and will only worsen with thousands of new apartments, especially in South Tampa, if new rules are not put in place.

The measure would apply citywide, if ultimately approved by council members by the end of May. It wouldn’t affect developers seeking to build under density baselines already within the city’s comprehensive plan.

That disturbed those with plans for properties in Ybor City, downtown, the Channel District and other hot spots around Florida’s third-largest city.

Council member John Dingfelder, who has led the effort, said those fears are exaggerated, citing a line from the Wizard of Oz.

“Lions, tigers and bears, oh my!” he said in mock fear.

But Charlie Miranda said he’s happy the city is growing and that children of Tampeños are deciding to stay put. Cities evolve, he said, and those that aren’t growing are dying.

After about a 50-minute discussion, the latest in five months of council talks, Dingfelder, Orlando Gudes, Joseph Citro and Bill Carlson voted to proceed with the draft ordinance. Miranda, Luis Viera and Chairman Guido Maniscalco voted against it.

In December, South of Gandy residents enlisted Dingfelder’s help to put a halt on new apartment developments in their neighborhoods. Mayor Castor’s administration countered by saying a building moratorium couldn’t just cover one area of the city, it had to apply citywide to withstand legal challenges.

Data compiled by city planners shows developers exceeding density through floor area ratio calculations all over the city, which would be prohibited under the proposal.

Earlier this month, council members heard a Castor plan to implement an effective freeze on new permitting in three land-use categories frequently used for apartments. That’s what essentially passed Thursday. It still faces two council hearings and the issue has stirred passions on both sides.

Dingfelder noted that developers can still proceed with their plans after June if they decide to include a small percentage of retail in their projects: a coffee shop, dry cleaners or convenience store, for example.

Developers pleaded for more time, saying the city should follow the normal process to amend its land-use plan, by sending it to city and county planners for a verdict before taking action. But residents said their 18-month battle can’t idle any longer.

The plan, they said, was hardly news as the topic has been discussed publicly for months.