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What’s next? The future of Tampa Bay housing | Column
There is no “magic bullet” but there are several approaches that will help create the housing we need for a growing population.
 
The Midtown Tampa development on Dale Mabry is a good example of successfully redeveloping an older commercial district.
The Midtown Tampa development on Dale Mabry is a good example of successfully redeveloping an older commercial district. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published Aug. 3, 2023

What’s next for Tampa Bay housing?

When asked that question, my immediate response is that the future of this region is bright. But we face challenges that need tackling. By 2050, Hillsborough will have 1,981,900 residents, an increase of more than 400,000, according to the state Bureau of Economic and Business Research. That’s a lot of growth ― and a lot of needed planning. It is my hope that we make thoughtful, deliberate decisions that ensure we retain choices that people value in our region — choices in whether to live in urban, suburban or rural communities, choices in places to work close to home, in ways to get around safely and to retain natural assets and places to recreate.

Melissa Zornitta
Melissa Zornitta [ PATRICK MYERS | Patrick Myers ]

To successfully plan for that much growth, there’s no single way to create that much housing. Rather, we need to try several approaches. Within our existing developed areas, we can look for opportunities to allow modest increases in density, what planners like to call “missing middle housing.” This approach allows us to diversify the type of housing in neighborhoods by adding the types of residential units currently missing. We have a lot of single-family homes and apartments. But there are numerous options in between, such as duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and accessory dwelling units that can be compatible in scale and form to detached single-family homes. In older neighborhoods, like Hyde Park in Tampa, those types of housing choices already exist and many people don’t even realize it, as they fit right in with the design and character of the neighborhood.

In our older commercial areas, great opportunities exist to incorporate multifamily residential and mixed uses. Allowing some higher density in commercial areas is often ideal, as they do not have immediate neighbors and already have significant infrastructure. Including residential in the commercial and employment areas means that people have the choice to live closer to where they work and to the goods and services they need. This creates more choices in how people get around, because walking, biking and transit may be more feasible. Midtown Tampa on Dale Mabry is a recent example of redeveloping an older commercial area into a vibrant mixed-use place where people now live, work and play. Focusing on infill and redevelopment not only allows us to maximize our existing infrastructure investment, but also helps us preserve our rural and agricultural areas, as well as our incredible natural assets throughout Hillsborough County.

At the same time, we need to allow the building of new single-family homes in growing areas. Plant City is an example of a community that adopted a master plan in the mid-2000s to accommodate new residential growth outside of their existing city limits. This historic city is now ready with opportunities for new single-family residential development, as well as new commercial and job centers.

What is critical is that we are careful and strategic in selecting areas to make sure we have the infrastructure services in place to accommodate growing needs now and into the future. The importance of planning ahead of the expected growth — whether it is infill, redevelopment or new growth areas — cannot be underscored enough, so we have the infrastructure in place to turn the challenges that come with growth into opportunities for a thriving future. This is an area we haven’t done the best job of historically. We can do better, especially in the transportation arena.

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In our region, transportation costs are typically a family’s second-highest expense, behind housing. Transportation costs continue to rise in our region due to congestion and access to jobs. When combined with housing costs, the two make up on average 54.18% of household income in the Tampa Bay area. Reducing transportation costs, coupled with providing more housing options, will make it more affordable to live in the Tampa Bay area. Expanding the types of transportation people can access — walking, biking or transit — will further expand their choices and reduce costs, as well as traffic congestion. Locating new housing near transit options will boost choices in how they get to where they need to go each day. Decisions about the location of new growth and the timing and type of services available to meet the needs of that growth need to go hand in hand to properly plan for the community’s future.

We need a range of solutions to ensure we have more choices as we grow. We cannot limit ourselves to trying to find one magic bullet. Now is the time to deploy a spectrum of creative approaches.

Melissa Zornitta is the executive director of the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission, where she has worked in different capacities since 2001. Zornitta is a former president of the Florida chapter of the American Planning Association and member of the prestigious College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners.

About Spotlight Tampa Bay Community Conversation Series:

The Tampa Bay Times is launching Spotlight Tampa Bay, a series of conversations about consequential issues facing our community. Each conversation will feature a panel of industry leaders, representing varying viewpoints on the topic at hand, alongside reporters and editors at the Tampa Bay Times. Attendees can expect a dynamic and interactive discussion, with ample opportunity to participate in a Q&A session.

The first of these discussions will be Aug. 16 and will focus on the future of housing in Tampa Bay — everything from affordability, gentrification, sprawl and downtown development. Melissa Zornitta is one of the panelists.

Where: The Palladium, 253 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg, 33701

When: Wednesday, Aug. 16. 5 p.m. for check-in/registration. Program starts at 5:30 p.m.

Ticket price: $30 in advance or $40 at the door. Ticket Includes one drink (wine, beer or nonalcoholic), light appetizers and a gift.

For more information and to buy tickets, go to tinyurl.com/4eh5t5x7.