After making history as the first municipality to take advantage of an internal bill that allows for a process of creating affordable housing on industrially zoned properties, the city of St. Petersburg hopes to build on its success.
Using the new codified zoning process, city officials — along with county commissioners — recently approved the transformation of a former lumber yard at 33000 Fairfield Ave. S in 264 affordable apartments. Following widespread praise for forward-thinking and quick action, St. Petersburg is now considering how more industrial-zoned properties could help solve the current housing crisis.
At Thursday’s Housing, Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting, City Administrator Rob Gerdes presented a list of 15 properties to City Council members that may qualify for the one-time process. St. Petersburg has adopted strict criteria to align with Bill 1339 of 2020, and the city is currently considering adjusting procedural concepts in light of a bill recently passed by the Senate.
“There were a lot of concerns about the balance between job growth opportunities and housing affordability,” Gerdes said of the historic use of HB1339.
“So we’re trying to find that sweet spot where we could allow land to open up for affordable housing, but not that it was so much land that it took away opportunities for job growth and industrial growth. .”
Project criteria under HB1339 include a minimum of five acres and 60 units; a location within two miles of a public or vocational school, one mile of a grocery store and the Pinellas Trail or city park, and one-quarter mile of a PSTA bus route; and a maximum rent or sale price at 120% or below the area median income (AMI), with a minimum affordability period of 30 years.
As Council member Copley Gerdes noted, four of the 15 sites identified – including the two largest – are on the western side of St. Petersburg. Gerdes District 1 encompasses this area and he said his constituents want the kind of density this process provides.
“It helps move the needle in my district,” Gerdes said. “And I think for the city as a whole, we have a few areas where I think the projects want to be done, and the developers are trying to find a way to do that.”
In addition to the previous mechanism, the Florida Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 962. Although governors have yet to sign it, the bill allows a municipality to use a parcel zoned for commercial or industrial purposes for a residential project, as long as at least 10% of the units are affordable housing.
In light of SB 962, the city is now considering revisions to the process. The changes could allow developments with a minimum of 30% affordable and labor-intensive units if at least 50% of those units are at or below 80% of the area’s median income. The provision would only apply to projects over 300 units and could also allow space for “incidental commercial” uses up to 5,000 square feet. Administrator Rob Gerdes said ancillary commercial use could provide residents of a project with a small cafe or grocery store.
The 30% minimum for affordable and labor-intensive units has been the source of much debate. Gerdes explained that it becomes more difficult to fund projects using state and federal resources once a development crosses that 30% threshold.
“Once you start getting to 40 to 50 percent, the amount of subsidy required by the city and county without those other sources of funding starts to get prohibitive,” he said. “Of the 30%, however, we believe you should only be allowed to use this mixed income provision on larger projects.”
Gerdes said the Fairfield Avenue apartments show St. Petersburg that it is possible to fund 100% affordable and labor-intensive housing without tax credits. This development consists of 264 units, and Gerdes said the city will stipulate that a project must include a minimum of 300 units to qualify for the 30% benchmark.
If a development has less than 300 units, it will still need to meet the 100% affordable and labor unit criteria.
Council member Richie Floyd reiterated that he prefers to preserve industrial land for employment opportunities, but made an exception for Fairfield Avenue apartments as all units are affordable or workforce housing .
“As for 30%, I’m not there today,” he said. “It’s too low for me, personally.”
Floyd added that while he expects SB962 to become law, “there’s a small chance we’ll get ahead of ourselves.” Council member Brandi Gabbard echoed those sentiments. However, she said she would like to continue to identify more industrial properties under the HB1339 criteria in addition to the 15 presented by Gerdes.
Council members unanimously agreed to wait for governor to enact SB692, conduct community outreach on proposed changes, review results of an upcoming county land use study , then brings the item back to the committee before making a final decision.
“I didn’t want this one to take two years like 1339 did,” Gabbard said. “And even though we’re going to have the next stage of the committee, I still believe we’re going to believe in bringing him in for a landing – long before anyone else in the state.”