One of the Strategic Objectives of the Chamber NEXT strategic plan is to ensure our community has SPACE to live and work. Given that we are living on a peninsula, on a greater peninsula and surrounded on three sides by water, our only way to create space is by building up and increasing our density. Our ability to increase density in much of our city is in jeopardy due to regulations regarding the Coastal High Hazard Area of our city.
The Coastal High Hazard Area (CHHA) of Pinellas County recently doubled in size according to an updated Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes ( SLOSH) model used to determine the area below the elevation of a Category 1 storm surge. The city has a longstanding policy to prohibit density increases in the CHHA to minimize the number of residents affected by storm surge. This was not a major issue before the new model was released as the majority of the area was protected wetlands or coastal single family neighborhoods.
The new CHHA map doubles the size of the prohibit area and includes many sections of St. Pete ripe for redevelopment, including: the Gateway area, the Innovation District, the Skyway Marina District, and Carillon. If the prohibition on density increases in these areas of the city remain, we would lose our ability to grow without infringing on traditional single-family neighborhoods at higher elevations.
New regulations pertaining to the areas in the map below will be considered by City Council later this Spring which would allow property owners to apply for density increases in the CHHA provided that their development plans include elements that would mitigate the negative effects of storm surge as well as contribute to Hurricane Evacuation Shelter space. These requirements include:
1. Prepare Hurricane Evacuation and Re-entry Plan: all multi-family and hotel projects
2. Reduce Risk for Water: elevate an additional 2-feet above the required design flood elevation, for a total of 4-feet above Base Flood Elevation (addresses both Sea Level Rise and Storm Surge)
3. Reduce Risk for Wind: construct the building to meet design requirements of next higher classification of Risk Category, e.g. increase from 145 to 155 mph standard, Category 2 to 3 storm event
4. Enhance Recovery through selection of a Resiliency option: such as provision of on-site storage of solar generated power, increased efficiency HVAC systems, or providing solar or tank-less water heating systems. Projects up to 199 units select one option, projects over 200 units select two options
5. Projects which increase density must mitigate for Hurricane Evacuation Shelter space
St. Pete Chamber Position
Over the course of several months the Chamber has worked with the city and our members to understand several issues associated with these new changes. During this due diligence we:
- Weighed the environmental concerns against our city’s need for density
- Worked with builders and city staff to develop criteria to harden structures that would not be cost prohibitive
- Considered the consequences inaction would have on gentrification, (it would be accelerated) and our economy (growth would be slowed)
- Ensured that this action would not change any current density regulations and only allow for change applications to be considered on a case by case basis
In the end, in order to ensure our city retains options on where to increase density and not accelerate gentrification by limiting redevelopment to higher elevations, the HLUD Committee decided to SUPPORT the City’s efforts to remove the prohibition on density increases in certain areas of the CHHA (Gateway, Carillon, the Skyway Marina and Innovation Districts, etc.), provided that mitigating building requirements are enforced on approved developments.
The Public Policy Council and Board of Governors affirmed the Committee’s position and Chamber staff and leaders will be meeting with City Council members to advocate in support of the changes in the coming days. The Chamber looks forward to weighing in on specific density increase requests on a case by case basis and working with the city to promote Smart Growth in our community.