Pinellas looks to the future with proposed countywide plan changes

Urban Landings, an apartment complex on Fourth Avenue South in St. Petersburg, is an example of an area with the density for a community center subcategory.

CLEARWATER — Forward Pinellas Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution July 10 in support of amendments to countywide plan strategies and rules, and agreed to send them on to the Countywide Planning Authority with a recommendation of support.

The board also said yes to a draft ordinance for the CPA to consider and adopt along with exhibits of the proposed changes.

The countywide plan coordinates land use among the county’s 25 local governments and it coordinates land use with transportation and other priorities. Proposed amendments call for replacing the transit-oriented land-use vision map put in place years ago with a land-use strategy map that reclassifies existing special centers and special corridors.

Rules would be updated to modify standards and requirements, and add a tiered amendment process for activity center and multimodal corridor categories. Proposed amendments also include creation of a planned redevelopment district category, new local density and intensity bonuses, as well as additions and modifications to existing definitions.

Forward Pinellas Principal Planner Linda Fisher said the plan needed an update to address changing conditions, such as projected increases in the county’s population and job availability.

Officials predict by the year 2045, Pinellas County’s population will have grown by 93,000 with an increase of 59,000 jobs. Even looking at current conditions, Fisher said the demand for downtown living is increasing, which has fueled multifamily projects in recent years.

In addition, the need for transportation alternatives is evident now, she said, and it will become more prevalent as the population grows and people need a way to get to where they are going.

Updating the countywide plan would allow better coordination of land use with transit needs. It would necessitate identification of planned transit centers and corridors, enable transit-oriented densities and require transit-oriented design.

The goal would be to create areas with housing and jobs within walking distance of transit facilities using designs that are comfortable for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users.

Fisher said even though Pinellas is considered a built-out county, it continues to undergo small changes through redevelopment. Changes to the countywide plan would help redevelopment match the public’s needs, especially those of millenniums that prefer an urban environment and would rather use transit instead of their own personal vehicle.

Adding activity center subcategories to the plan also would help, Fisher said. Proposed subcategories include a neighborhood center that would allow 60 units per acre, a community center with 90 units per acre, a major center with 150 units per acre and, the largest, an urban center that would allow a density of 200 units per acre.

None of the changes would occur without going through a local governments’ normal public hearing process, Fisher said; however, the amendments would make them possible.

The changes should prove helpful as the county prepares to do more to address its need for affordable housing. Forward Pinellas Executive Director said Pinellas’ workers should be able to live closer to home instead of commuting from Pasco County because it was more affordable to live there.

Transportation was a big topic of discussion with some worried that increasing density without having a transit network to accommodate it would worsen the county’s problems. Others were concerned about how people would get from activity centers to their job.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has been using partnerships with rideshare and taxi companies to provide first-mile, last-mile service between a person’s home and a bus stop, as well as to provide service when the buses aren’t running for third-shift workers. But many believe that’s not enough.

Blanton said part of the problem with getting workers to the county’s industrial areas is they were built a long time ago without any consideration for good access to transportation.

“That will take longer to change,” he said.

Derek Kilborn, manager of St. Petersburg’s Urban Planning and Historic Preservation, said the city supports the proposed changes. The need for affordable housing is critical, and density is an important factor toward increasing supply.

He said a bigger supply of housing creates more choices, especially as people transition through life stages — young adults to seniors. He added that synchronization of land use and transportation was important.

Blanton said many policy discussions would be coming as local governments wrestle with the need for affordable housing, transit improvements and job availability, especially as the population increases.

The county’s growing tourism industry also has to be considered as more people come to Pinellas to enjoy its beaches, Blanton said.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.