Foes sprout up in shadows of tower proposals
Thirty floors is high enough, some St. Petersburg civic associations say. They urge voters to agree.
By CARRIE JOHNSON
Published July 28, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - City officials see the recent proliferation of towers sprouting in downtown as a symbol of success.
But some residents view it as a signal their city is changing - and not necessarily for the better.
Now at least two civic associations are lobbying the city to place height restrictions on downtown development. One group, the Council of Neighborhood Associations or CONA, wants voters to sign off on a 300-foot limitation during the next election.
They say they're trying to prevent the "canyon effect" created by rows of skyscrapers like those in Miami. But developers and city staff members say a height restriction isn't necessary and could lead to bulkier, uglier development.
"I don't think it's strictly a matter of height," said Jerry T. Shaw, senior vice president for Opus South, which is building two luxury condominium towers in St. Petersburg. "Personally, I like tall, sleek buildings more than thick buildings that block views."
The movement began earlier this month when the Downtown Neighborhood Association formed a committee to study the issue of building height.
The city is currently in the process of rewriting the laws dictating how land can be used, otherwise known as land development regulations.
As currently written, there really aren't any height limitations for downtown buildings because developers can receive bonuses that allow them to exceed size restrictions. The bonuses are distributed in exchange for including such features as landscaping, trees and public art.
For example, when developer Grady Pridgen proposed building Bayway Lofts, a condominium tower on Third Avenue N between Second and Third streets, he used bonuses to push the height to 510 feet. City officials questioned the legitimacy of some of the bonuses and the project was scaled back to 371 feet.
The only restrictions come from the Federal Aviation Administration, to keep a clear flight path for Albert Whitted Airport.
The Bank of America tower is the city's tallest building at 386 feet. The recently proposed Tropicana Center would be even taller at 435. Others include the 355-foot Parkshore Plaza and the 366-foot Signature Place.
A traditional 300-foot building is about 30 stories tall.
Downtown association members said they want to see any new regulations include height limitations, said Tim Clemmons, an architect and the head of the committee.
"We thought there ought to be some predictability to the system," Clemmons said.
Their proposal would restrict height to 400 feet in the urban core between Second Avenue N and Second Ave. S. For the rest of downtown, from Tampa Bay to Martin Luther King Jr. Street, the limit would be 300 feet.
The group is scheduled to meet with city officials next week to discuss their proposal to see if it could be incorporated into the new land-use laws.
But CONA members decided to take the idea a step further.
At its most recent meeting, the group voted unanimously to ask the City Council to put a question on the November ballot asking voters whether a 300-foot height limitation should be created.
"If you look at the city's history, economics used to restrict the height," said Karl Nurse, CONA's president. "But that's no longer the case. I think that voters would want there to be a point at which we can say, "Okay, that's high enough.' "
Steve Plice, CONA's vice president, said a ballot question is necessary to communicate the wishes of residents, now and in the future.
"When you talk to the citizens of this city about development, they're very clear about what they want," Plice said. "But when you talk to the politicians, they say development is a wonderful thing. Where is that disconnect coming from?"
But Bob Jeffrey, the city's manager of urban design and historic preservation who is overseeing the changes in the land development regulations, said a ballot question may not be needed.
Jeffrey has met with developers to solicit their input on how the laws should be changed downtown. Now he's planning to meet with neighborhood groups.
A height limitation may be one of the elements that springs from those talks, Jeffrey said.
Carrie Johnson can be reached at 727 892-2273 or email@example.com
[Last modified July 28, 2005, 01:09:17]
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