Public Policy Council – July 25 Meeting Review

Posted On 08/03/2017 by St. Pete Chamber
City Council Member Ed Montanari with the City kicked off the meeting with an update about a policy issue that was at the top of everyone’s mind – the St. Petersburg sewage crisis and the consent order intended to address it. The legally binding, 15-page agreement requires the City to spend $326m to improve the sewage system and stipulates sliding-scale penalties of $500-$10k per day for further discharges. To comply with the agreement, the City must continue to address capacity issues, build injection wells, develop a wastewater- and stormwater-treatment master plan and spend $14m per year on manhole and collection system rehabilitation. The agreement also requires the City to line or replace deteriorated private laterals within the next four years.

There are concerns among some City Council members about the lack of a financing plan to accompany the consent order. The City will likely fund the required investments in the city’s sewage system with a combination of Penny for Pinellas funds and utility-rate increases. While the rate increases have yet to be finalized (a detailed rate study is being conducted), they are expected to be approximately 4% for water, 11% for reclaimed water, 17% for wastewater and 15% for stormwater.

The Public Policy Council also discussed the land development regulations (LDRs) that were recently passed. The original proposal was for a city-wide, residential floor area ratio (FAR) requirement of 0.5 with bonuses allowing for the construction of homes with a FAR of up to 0.7. Yet most of the constituents voicing strong support for FAR requirements were coming from traditional neighborhoods rather than from suburban areas, so City Council decided to approve an alternative piece of legislation that applies only to traditional neighborhoods. The approved legislation stipulates a more restrictive baseline FAR requirement of 0.4 (with bonuses allowing for a FAR of up to 0.6) for homes constructed in these areas.

Jillian Bandes with Bandes Construction raised a concern that the FAR requirements put in place could unintentionally reduce housing availability by preventing the rehabilitation of select properties in neighborhoods that are affected by the legislation. As the discussion closed, Montanari shared that he thinks the City ended up in a good place with this piece of legislation, as it will help protect the atmosphere of historical neighborhoods while being minimally burdensome.

Travis Norton with the Chamber provided a update that Jewel White will replace Jim Bennett as the Pinellas County Attorney.

Kyle Parks with B2 Communications presented on a November referendum to approve the construction of a one-story, privately-funded parking garage adjacent to The Vinoy Renaissance Resort. The referendum is necessary due to deed restrictions that were put in place in 1984 when the City traded the property to The Vinoy in a land swap deal. The project would raise the existing tennis courts to the top of the newly-constructed parking garage, and the referendum’s narrowly-focused language is intended to make it clear to the public what they are voting for. A motion for the Public Policy Committee to support the referendum was approved, with no one in opposition.

Sharon Wright with the City shared that City Council will meet on Thursday to discuss the possibility of regulating plastic bag use in St. Petersburg. While a bill that would allow cities to establish pilot programs to regulate or ban disposable plastic bags died, Coral Gables’ ban on Styrofoam was upheld in February, a state-level preemptive ban notwithstanding. The case is currently on appeal and will likely take as long as eight months to be terminated, but it opens the door for cities like St. Petersburg to take similar measures to reduce their use of disposable plastics. Policy options include bans and incentives, and various ways to implement the alternatives are also under consideration.

Martha Boden with SPCA Tampa Bay reported that several measures to improve transportation in St. Petersburg are underway. Complete Streets is developing preliminary recommendations for how to improve safety and support multiple transportation modalities more effectively. Additionally, the downtown Circulator’s route is being revised. It has been decided that the charging station will be on 6th Avenue, but the final location has yet to be determined.

Phil Clark with Raymond James shared that the details for Popcorn, Pints and Politics are being finalized. The Chamber is still looking for organizations that would be interested in sponsoring the event.

City Council Member Ed Montanari shared about and expressed his support for a ballot initiative that would ammend the City’s charter to enable council members to hire much-needed legislative aides. If passed, the legislation would authorize council members to direct other city employees, which is currently not allowed.

Travis Norton with the Chamber shared that the City is moving forward with modifying St. Petersburg’s noise ordinance to include decibel requirements.

Brandi Gabbard with Smith & Associates shared that a flood-insurance bill that will save grandfathering and new construction will go to the House floor in the upcoming week. The bill, if passed, will protect many St. Petersburg residents from insurance-fee increases of up to $200 and consolidate seven flood-insurance bills into one package (it has a five-year renewal period). A concern was raised that new mapping technology could lead to more areas of St. Petersburg property being classified as flood zones for insurance purposes. In response, Gabbard shared that this is unlikely to be an issue as the bill allows for the use of local mapping.

Ronnell Montgomery with the James B. Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center shared that the Chamber’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board has been developing a strategic plan for 2017. As a part of this process, the advisory board is gathering specific numbers on diversity within the Chamber to see how it compares with the diversity of local businesses. Chamber members can expect to receive communications and a survey soon.

Bob Warchola with Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP noted that the Chamber’s advocacy efforts have been very successful in 2017. A mid-year update on the Chamber’s advocacy work in 2017 will soon be released.

The next Public Policy Council meeting will take place on August 22 at 7:30 a.m.

Category: Advocacy