Officials envision new city projects
By ANDREW MEACHAM
© St. Petersburg Times,
ST. PETERSBURG -- Every so often a city needs to stop and take stock of itself. St. Petersburg planners put that window at 20 or 30 years. Last weekend's forum brought officials together with citizens and a consulting firm to dream about the city's future.
Urban planners from Glatting Jackson, an Orlando firm, led about 110 people in Saturday's 2020 Vision workshop, the culmination of seven weekly seminars.
"This is just the first general pass, the very simplest of forms," said Bob Jeffrey, an urban design manager for the city.
After another meeting, organizers will submit recommendations to the City Council. If the council approves, planners will take an editor's pencil to the city's comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance.
Currently city officials are following a vision from the 1970s which has caused a slew of variance requests.
Most of the city is zoned RS-75 -- sites zoned as single-family, requiring lot widths of 75 feet. But the majority of lots are only 50 feet wide. Consequently, said Julie Weston, a Development Services assistant director, the Board of Adjustment and Environmental Design Commission hear about 30 variance requests a month. Another two to 12 cases, she estimated, come before the Planning Commission, which meets every two months.
"If the regulations we had worked, we wouldn't have to process these cases month after month," Weston said.
While zoning stands as the first and most likely area of revision, last weekend's meeting covered areas of business to pleasure.
Residents envisioned schools as neighborhood centers, neighborhoods connected by linear parks, and pedestrian-friendly roads lined with mixed-use retail and residential buildings. They wanted a fourth commercial "center" somewhere south of Central Avenue, one to match the existing big three at Tyrone Mall, downtown and the Carillon complex.
Participants at Saturday's meeting broke up into groups brainstorming about neighborhoods, traffic corridors and commercial hubs, or "centers."
By late morning, 72 poster-sized sheets of paper hung on the walls of the Student Activities Center at the University of South Florida's Bayboro campus. These sheets listed likes and dislikes, and offered sometimes contradictory recommendations.
Certain buzzwords had a way of reappearing: partnership, diversity and community. One group recommended that Albert Whitted airport be converted into residential and retail shops -- but also to "leave Albert Whitted alone."
Planners say that's all a part of creating order out of chaos. "The city has gone to unusual lengths to make this a true dialogue," said Peter Sechler of Glatting Jackson.
Two themes emerged with greater frequency than most: A desire for mixed-use development instead of malls, and more business concentration south of Central Avenue.
Toward the first end, Grand Central District Association manager Linda Truslow said that many of the ideas proposed at the meeting already are being planned for her district, between First avenues N and S, from I-275 to 31st Street. The association hopes to use its UV zoning, for "urban village," to create the kind of area where retailers can live above or near their shops.
"In that area, it seems to make sense," Mayor Rick Baker said of Grand Central's plans, which have yet to secure a funding source.
Redevelopment in what Baker calls Midtown could mean rewriting some rules in order to avoid unnecessary costs.
"It's great to say we're going to turn 22nd Street into a commercial corridor," Jeffrey said. "A lot of those buildings are old and have fire code problems. So you can put a business there, but if it takes $10,000 to retrofit it and another $20,000 to bring it up to code, we need to re-tool."
City organizers invited all who attended visioning seminars to sign up as "delegates." Saturday, 109 delegates picked up name tags. Another 224 were no-shows, including several city officials, neighborhood and community leaders. A meeting to summarize the results of the 2020 Vision workshops is tentatively scheduled for June 20.
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