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Thursday, Jul 31, 2014

Revised plan approved for downtown St. Pete condo tower


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ST. PETERSBURG — Plans for a 16-story condominium on downtown’s north side were approved Wednesday after numerous protests from nearby residents who said it was out of step with the neighborhood’s historical character.

Plans have been in the works for nearly a decade to build a Mediterranean-style tower at 145 Fourth Ave. N. It was approved once under previous city codes that allowed for a narrower (10 foot) space around buildings exceeding 50 feet in height.

Developer John Shine went before the Development Review Commission in December, hoping to build his 72-unit complex under those older guidelines, arguing that a newer requirement of 30-foot setbacks wasn’t realistic on compact lots such as his.

The new rules were intended to create a more attractive downtown skyline and allow for more air flow between buildings in the neighborhood, a mix of older homes and apartment buildings such as the Flori de Leon, across the street from the condo site.

At the meeting in December, residents complained about Shine’s request to waive the new rules, and the commission balked. Shine went back to the drawing board.

On Wednesday, the commission approved the revised condo, its tower now 10 feet away from only a utility station on its west side but appropriately spaced on the other three sides.

Commission member Darren Stowe cast the lone no vote. Others said a growing downtown needs projects such as this. “This reminds me of some of the things I’ve seen happen as we’ve gone along, where people said, ‘Oh, you’re blocking my view if you approve the buildings on Beach Drive,’” longtime commission member Ben Fisher said.

“You’ve got great art, great things going on, and it takes people to make that work. And one way or the other, we have to have places for people to live downtown.”

Shine wouldn’t have needed the setback variance had he renewed his previously approved site plan with the city before it expired in 2012. A state law allows developers to build according to the city code at the time their plans are approved, provided they don’t let it expire.

The city’s new code, he said, works for some of the bigger apartment complexes being built, which occupy an entire block and have no other lots within 10 feet. Approval for narrower buildings between other lots is nearly impossible, he said. “If you don’t allow enough building square footage, it doesn’t become economically viable for smaller developers,” he said before the hearing Wednesday.

With all the rental housing going up in the city, Shine said, his $40 million condo project will meet a pent up demand for ownership downtown.

Plans show a three-story parking deck with 13 stories above, including penthouse units at the top, crowned with domes on the roof. There’s also an open courtyard space facing Fourth Avenue.

The commission on Wednesday also approved two less-controversial variances for height and floor area ratio, at the recommendation of city staff.

Stowe voted against them all, saying the proposal is “too large for this neighborhood.”

His vote was reflective of more than a dozen people who showed up at the hearing. Many of them urged the commission to vote no, including St. Petersburg Preservation’s Peter Belmont, who lives nearby.

The city staff also had received letters from the Flori de Leon board, the Downtown Neighborhood Association, the Council of Neighborhood Associations and many residents opposing the condo.

Many of them said the building doesn’t belong on this stretch of Fourth Avenue, a part of the downtown historic district and the main artery between the interstate and Beach Drive.

“I’m not really sure that I’ve seen much of anything that says they’ve taken into account historic character of our neighborhood,” Belmont said.

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

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