The surest sign downtown St. Petersburg is on the move? Growing pains. Last week's daylong meeting of the City Council brought to light a host of complaints from residents about the booming downtown and the city's antiquated codes in dealing with it. The challenge for City Hall going forward is to balance an enviable quality of life with welcome economic investment. A good place to start is retooling downtown development rules to reflect modern technology and good neighborliness.
Once again, neighbors of a 17-story condominium project going up at 330 Third St. S reminded the council of the pain of living near teeth-rattling pile-driving equipment that has been hammering since April and likely will continue into the new year. Residents on the north end of downtown's Beach Drive who live next to a proposed site for the 30-unit condominium project, Bliss, raised the specter of increased alley traffic. Backers of the plan claim it's really about lost views. And then there are the ongoing complaints — more than 375 this year — about downtown noise, most notably connected to the city's burgeoning nightlife scene.
In each instance, it appears, the city's ability to intervene is woefully behind the times. The city's construction rules don't require any noise abatement for pile drivers; the parking garage elevator contemplated for Bliss — which makes the project possible as a condominium tower — isn't even contemplated in city code; and the noise ordinance apparently has resulted in only two citations this year.
That's not to suggest all the complaints are valid. Part of living in an urban setting is dealing with urban problems, including the potential that a neighboring parcel may one day be the site of a condominium tower that blocks views from existing condominium towers. And the city should update the parking garage code to set standards for the use of an elevator. Living downtown because you enjoy the abundance of amenities also means you have to tolerate noise. But there is room for improvement.
Council member Karl Nurse, for example, has suggested the city should shrink the hours pile drivers are allowed to operate and require them to deploy noise-muffling technology. Both requirements would drive up the cost of construction. Ultimately, the balance might be tipped toward costlier but far quieter techniques such as drilling holes and filling them with concrete. That's what the Bliss developers, for example, are contemplating in recognition of neighborly sensibility.
Less clear is how the city might address the conflict between sleeping residents and downtown's thriving nightlife — but it needs to, perhaps by embracing quieter requirements after a certain hour. With hundreds more condominium and apartment units expected in the next few years, that tension will likely grow.