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Roundup 9-20-2019

September 19, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— Referendum Funding

— Not Enough

— Looking at the High Road

Governance – Show Us the Money

Downtown – AER, Finally Something

USF Area/Pasco – Moffitt Moves

USF – Consolidation Blues

Built Environment – Still More

Port – Still More

Airport – Still More Change

St Pete – Housing and Parking

Because We Can

Meanwhile, In the Rest of North America

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

___________________________________


Transportation


— Referendum Funding

This week the County Commission did what it should do:

Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 6-1 Wednesday to restore funding allocations associated with the voter-approved All For Transportation sales tax.

The move means revenue from the 1 percent sales tax will be allocated consistent with the plan voters approved last November. Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Rex Barbas had struck the spending allocation “buckets” down this summer as part of a legal challenge seeking to overturn the tax.

Barbas instead placed the onus on the County Commission to determine spending.

The funding allocations place 54 percent of the revenue with the County and the three municipalities within it, 45 percent to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and 1 percent to the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization for planning and development purposes.

Interestingly,

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White was the only commissioner to vote against the ordinance. White launched the legal challenge that led eventually necessitated Wednesday’s vote and is currently challenging the lower court’s ruling upholding the tax.

Among other issues, White complained that the transit-dedicated portion of the allocations was too vague.

“We cannot say with confidence what the implications of this ordinance will be,” White said.

He later clarified that the allocations do not provide specific uses for the funding.

White also argued the spending plan disproportionally benefitted downtown Tampa at the detriment of other areas in unincorporated Hillsborough County like east and south Hillsborough. Commissioners Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman joined White in that concern, but voted in favor of the ordinance with the stipulation that they would continue fighting to change the allocation prescription to better fund road projects in more rural and urban parts of the county.

Setting aside that not enforcing impact fees and poor planning decisions and budget decisions over the last decade (or two) by the County Commission are a major cause for the County’s problems now, we do not share their concern. There is money for the County and, as we said last week, the cities are in the County anyway.

As always, it is still up to the Courts.


— Not Enough

We hear from time to time that the Hillsborough and Pinellas transit systems are woefully underfunded.  The AFT referendum would change that for Hillsborough (using local funds, not taking it from other counties), but we still do not know what the courts will do.  Last week, there was more proof about just how bad the funding issue is.

A new study from Wallethub published Tuesday looked at 100 US cities to determine the country’s best and worst public transportation systems based on a few measures. The website looked at accessibility and convenience, safety and reliability and public transit resources. The former two measures were given a weight of 40 points max each, while the final measure carried a weight of 20 points max.

Based on the standard grade scale, no city earned better than a C+. The top-performing system per the study is in Seattle, which got a score of 77.97. Each city also received a ranking based on the submeasures, and in this case, Seattle was only seventh for accessibility and convenience, sixth for safety and reliability and third for public transit resources.

The other four top cities were Boston, San Francisco, Washington and Madison, Wisconsin. Each scored at least 71 points in the rankings. Outside of the top five, cities fell under 70 points with the worst of the 100 cities scoring a mere 24.69 points or fewer. The bottom three cities (Tampa, Florida; St. Petersburg, Florida; and Indianapolis) scored 24.69, 24.03 and 21.13, respectively. That’s not a great look for a big city like Indianapolis, especially considering a single category alone was worth a max of 20 points.

The study can be found here.  Tampa (Hillsborough) was 98th and St. Pete (Pinellas) was 99th.  They tied for 91st in “Public Transit resources” and tied for 98th in safety and reliability.  Needless to say, that is quite poor.  It is also not surprising given the choices that have been made by local and state governments over the years.  While some may be comfortable with being next to last, we are not.  And it definitely is not helpful in recruiting businesses (and talent) that consider transportation one of our weak spots.


— Looking at the High Road

The Selmon Expressway is has had an odd history.  The first leg, from Gandy to downtown, did not really connect anything because it did not go to the bridge or the interstate.  Eventually, it was extended to a growing Brandon and made more sense.  The elevated lanes and I-4 connector were very useful touches, as is the Gandy connector.  Now:

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority is trying to prepare for the Tampa Bay area’s growth by looking at ways to improve the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

One capacity study is happening now. Another is on the way.

Sue Chrzan, THEA Director of Communications, says the South Selmon Capacity Study has been going on for several months. The focus area stretches from Gandy Boulevard to downtown Tampa.

First, the Selmon provides a useful alternative to the interstate.  We use it.  Aside from the lack of southbound entrance ramps west of downtown and the odd design of the eastern terminus, we have no problem with it.  But what exactly are they looking at?

Chrzan says THEA is looking at a number of possibilities to best deal with future growth in Tampa Bay, from widening lanes to changing the length of entrance ramps, and everything in between.

* * *

A second capacity study will look at the east side of the expressway from 22nd Street to I-75. The project is expected to examine the impacts of potentially widening the lower eastbound lanes from two to three and adding lanes elsewhere.

We assume that “widening lanes” means adding lanes (there is no reason to widen the actual lanes). First, we are not sure that is really needed, especially in south Tampa where the biggest backups are usually at Gandy, where the backups are the result of a bottleneck and the connector is being built.  Additionally, we are opposed to increasing the footprint (and we doubt South Tampa residents really would go for that either).  Moreover, on the Brandon end, they already have reversible lanes to increase capacity.

In our opinion, if they are going to change anything, they should start with the Brandon terminus, where the end of the Selmon is kind of a mess. They should also look at adding some southbound on ramps once the Gandy Connector gets built.  Other than that, if they can add a lane within the present footprint, we do not care that much, but we do not think it is really needed or will change anything, as the Gandy connector is still going to be one lane and would still have a bottleneck.

The reality is that Hillsborough County should be focused on alternatives to driving.  It may be possible to tweak the Selmon to make it incrementally better, but is it really worth the debt or the maintenance of the tolls at the present levels (or going higher)?  It really is not a priority.


Governance – Show Us the Money

Last week, throughout the Roundup, we noted how the State is not providing support for local communities in developed areas to upgrade their infrastructure and, at least in the case of the referendum (though also in other ways) getting in the way when those people choose to do it themselves.  This week, the Times had an editorial brought on by news that the Governor wants to increase fines for dumping wastewater echoing those concerns:

DeSantis announced this week he wants the Legislature to increase fines for environmental crimes by 50 percent across the board, from sewage spills to releases of hazardous waste. The governor said he wanted to get the attention of polluters who had not taken these fines seriously enough in the past to change their practices or upgrade their operations. And the example he made of a city in “the Tampa Bay area” was an apparent (and justified) shot at St. Petersburg and its long-running wastewater problem. Still, this is a welcome wake-up call for government and industry alike.

The state, though, needs to pair tougher punishment with stronger financial support for communities struggling to rebuild their infrastructure. While the state has grant and loan programs, those funds come nowhere close to meeting statewide needs; Tampa alone just approved a $3 billion plan to rebuild its water and wastewater systems. And the Legislature has moved to block a locally approved transportation tax in Hillsborough County that could free up tens of millions of dollars for water and sewer improvements. The stick should be accompanied by some carrots.

We agree.  We have no problem with the State holding local communities to account when they do things like dump wastewater in large quantities.  However, the State should also provide real help avoid to situations where such things happen.

And when a County or area chooses to tax itself to fund what it needs, at a minimum, the State should not get in the way.


Downtown – AER, Finally Something

After many years, the AER apartment building near the Straz may finally be getting somewhere.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

On Thursday night, the Tampa City Council (in their capacity as the Downtown CRA) voted 6-1 to enter into a land development agreement with American Land Ventures to approve the long awaited AER tower, and to spend $1 million of city money to improve the Riverwalk at the Cass Street Bridge.

AER, first proposed all the way back in mid 2012 (!!!), is a 26-story apartment tower set to be built directly south of the Straz Center entrance and directly west of the John F. Germany Library. Cass Street and Tyler Street will be reconfigured to create a square block here, as you can see in the attached site plan.

As for the Riverwalk improvements, from the Business Journal:

The improvements to the Riverwalk will total $1.115 million. The Riverwalk construction will take place from the south side of Cass Street and west side of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. The improvements include a 12-foot wide sloping walking trail along the Hillsborough River’s seawall, more streetlights, traffic and pedestrian signals, crosswalk enhancements and relocation of utilities.

The crosswalk and lighting improvements will make it safer for Riverwalk pedestrians to travel from Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park to the portion of the Riverwalk adjacent to the arts center, according to city documents.

While it we would like the Riverwalk to have a walkway under the bridge, it difficult because of the train tracks/bridge. Looking at the agenda documents (here and here) the improvements seem to be making the Riverwalk a bit friendlier and smoother to use (than this, which is kind of a mess right now) north of Cass.

Just a reminder about the AER project:

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

The design is significantly different than the original (or the second iteration).  We are not that fond of the large, free-standing garage and odd alleyway (or the big, funny hat on the top of the building). While this project has dragged, we think the City could have done better on this lot than the project we are likely to get.  As for the Riverwalk work, the Cass crossing is a one of the bigger weak-spots, so any improvements would be welcome.


USF Area/Pasco – Moffitt Moves

In addition to all the good work it does for patients, the Moffitt Cancer Center is one of the major anchors and drivers of the biomed industry in this area.  It is a huge asset for the area and is looking to ramp up its size and scope.

Moffitt Cancer Center is turning to the state to ask for support in funding its major projects on and off the Tampa campus.

The cancer center is asking the Florida legislature to help fund a new inpatient clinical research center and a new hospital on its campus. Moffitt says the matter is urgent as it is at capacity with its 206 beds, its core buildings are more than 30 years old, and it needs to have a major expansion and update to care for the ever-growing population.

“Since we’ve opened our doors, the population has doubled. We are seeing many baby boomers, which is a large population at risk for cancer,” Moffitt CEO and President Dr. Alan List said.

Moffitt is seeking legislation to increase from 4 percent to 10 percent its share of annual cigarette tax money, which would generate an additional $22 million annually. Moffitt currently sees $15.5 million from the tax.

The increase to its share of the tax would take place in two phases — one from 4 to 7 percent in 2020 and then to 10 percent in 2023. The two increases would each provide an additional $11 million annually.

The new legislative session starts in January.

There are two projects they have in mind:

Moffitt said the additional collection from the taxes would be used for:

You can read more about the new tower here and the Pasco project here. This is a rendering of the new Tampa building:

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

As the Times explained in an editorial, this is how the money would be used:

Moffitt clearly serves a broad public need in a growing state and region where biomedicine plays an increasing role in the fabric of the economy. Moffitt wants lawmakers to increase its share of the state’s cigarette in two phases – to 7 percent in 2020 (from the current 4 percent) and then to 10 percent in 2023. The two increases would each provide an additional $11 million annually to the $15.5 million that Moffitt currently receives from the tax, with the first increase added to $332 million from Moffitt for a new clinical and research hospital in Tampa and the second increase devoted to a new research campus in Pasco County.

And this is why they should get the money:

Moffitt’s request reflects Florida’s unique dynamics and its own success in pioneering cancer treatment and research. Since Moffitt opened in 1986, the state’s population has doubled. Florida is second only to California in the number of cancer cases statewide. Moffitt’s clinical and research facilities are out of space, with some operating rooms too small to house advanced medical equipment. The hospital serves more than 68,000 patients, up 42 percent from 2009, and demand for outpatient care is expected to jump another one-third in the next six years.

* * *

Moffitt has a compelling case. As one of the top 10 cancer hospitals in America, and the only National Cancer Institute-designated “comprehensive cancer center” in Florida, Moffitt has delivered on the ideal lawmakers envisioned more than three decades ago. Beyond nurturing a global brand for excellence, Moffitt has become a major engine for high-paying jobs and for growing the region’s biotech industry. Expansion to accommodate the newest technology, more patients and more researchers in north Tampa and Pasco makes economic sense.

Moffitt does have a compelling case. It serves not on this areas’ growing population, but the state’s growing population and beyond.  And the business case is also important (though building a biomed cluster in Pasco is even farther than USF from the oft-discussed desired downtown biomed cluster around Water Street).  In fact, it is a win-win: better health care and better business potential.

It would be nice if Moffitt were not needed, but it is and will be for the foreseeable future. We support the request.


USF – Consolidation Blues

In what should not be a surprise to anyone, the USF consolidation process is having some issues.

The public on Tuesday got its best look so far at how the University of South Florida might be organized once its three now-separate campuses consolidate as a single institution next summer.

USF president Steve Currall laid out a plan for university trustees that shows some shared leadership and curricular offerings across those locations. But as many faculty feared, it strips administrators on the St. Petersburg and Sarasota campuses of power to make decisions about academics — forcing them to yield to leaders in Tampa.

Currently, regional chancellors in St. Petersburg and Sarasota manage faculty hiring and academic program budgets while also serving as community liaisons in their respective communities.

* * *

Florida lawmakers who ordered consolidation last year addressed those concerns in May, unanimously passing legislation that requires USF’s consolidation plan to include St. Petersburg and Sarasota as “branch” campuses.

The term is defined by accrediting authorities as campuses that are in charge of their own budgeting and hiring, but it is unclear whether that includes all budgets — academic and otherwise.

Currall says it doesn’t, and that his plan fully meets the branch campus requirement because chancellors will continue to oversee budgets and hiring for non-academic matters, like campus upkeep and emergency management.

Which drew the obvious reaction:

Longtime USF professor Ray Arsenault, who has been vocal about consolidation concerns as president of the St. Petersburg faculty senate, said Currall’s logic is flawed and does not meet the branch campus requirement Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law June 24.

“This is contradictory to the … legislation passed this year,” he said. “It guts the meaning of it and really is a defiance of the legislators.”

Arsenault called Currall’s proposal disappointing in that it “takes away almost all academic authority” from leaders on his campus who have made great strides in recent years. The plan would put St. Petersburg in “serious jeopardy,” he said, “because everything will go through Tampa.”

St. Petersburg regional chancellor Martin Tadlock also voiced concern in an interview following Currall’s presentation, pointing to better student retention rates and increased research spending under his leadership.

He said he expects continued concern among faculty on his campus, due to the lack of local academic leadership in Currall’s plan.

“That’s a big question mark,” Tadlock said. “Someone on every campus has to have responsibility and be accountable for academic affairs.”

There were similar reactions from Pinellas Legislators (see here and here).

We are not opposed to consolidation in theory, but we are still are not sure why the consolidation legislation was passed before any of these issues were worked out.  It should have been quite obvious that this would happen because the argument was essentially already happening, just in slow motion and at a lower temperature.  (And, frankly, it is a clear microcosm of the problems this area still has working regionally.)

And we are not going to take sides except to say that we just want it to work for the students.  So far, they seem relatively unharmed, but, the longer this goes on, the more likely it is to have a negative effect on them.  Unfortunately, we do not see how it will end, and it is not clear anyone else really does.  Once again, until there was an answer to that, it should not have been made a law.


Built Environment – Still More

There was news of the sale of an apartment building on Harbour Island last week:

A 21-story residential tower on Harbour Island has sold for a record-setting price per unit.

500 Harbour Island was sold to Northwestern Mutual for $103.45 million or $440,212 per apartment, according to JLL, which announced the deal Thursday.

JLL represented the seller, a partnership of Tampa’s Forge Capital Partners and Intown/Framework Group, which completed the tower in 2017.

It is the first time a market-rate apartment community has surpassed $400,000 per unit, and the sales price beats the previous Tampa Bay record of $354,748 per unit, which Camden Property Trust paid for an apartment tower in downtown St. Petersburg in early 2018.

We admit that we really just wanted to have this picture (the building in question is on the right):

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

But it is also another reason why the City should not settle. Quality projects will bring quality returns in a growing market.


Port – Still More

Holland America is coming back:

When Holland America said dropped Tampa as a cruise ship port last spring, it hinted it might be back in the future.

And so it will be.

“Holland America Line is excited about returning to Tampa with 18 Caribbean and two trans-Atlantic cruises from November 2020 to April 2021,” Holland America director of public relations Erik Elvejord said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

That is a bit of a wait, but it will be good to have them back.  The more cruises the better.  It does not address any long-range issues with cruises, but at least it will be bringing in revenue.


Airport – Still More Change

If you are planning to fly, this might be useful information:

Both Alaska Airlines and Sun Country Airlines will move from their current locations at Airside A to join Southwest at Tampa International Airport’s Airside C. Airside A is currently home to one of the Airport’s fastest growing carriers, Spirit Airlines, and also houses jetBlue and United Airlines. The move will allow for the airlines at Airside A to continue growing and expanding services. Alaska will make its move on September 19 while Sun Country will move on September 25. Check-in counters and baggage claim for both airlines will remain at their current locations.

We will be interested to see what all that growth entails.


St Pete – Housing and Parking

St. Pete is starting to make moves in the affordable housing arena.  From St. Pete Rising:

Over the past 18 months the City of St. Pete’s Planning and Development Services department has been working on a series of three change packages that will update the City’s Land Development Regulations (LDRs) and Comprehensive Plan (Comp Plan). These charges are part of the City’s response to increased concerns over housing affordability.

Individually, the proposed changes in these packages are relatively minor, but together they’ll add more flexibility to how housing can be built in St. Pete. The hope is that this will translate to more housing units being built at lower price points.

Because it is farthest along, they only discuss package one right now.  That package has three parts, beginning with minimum sizes for multifamily developments.

St. Pete’s building code currently requires multifamily units be of a certain size. Current code requires a minimum of 375 square feet (SF) for studios, 500 SF for one-bedroom units, and 750 SF for a two-bedroom units. Each additional bedroom beyond two-beds requires an additional 200 SF. These minimums are larger than Florida Building Code requirements. By removing the city-specific requirements, the minimum unit size requirements would simply default to to Florida Building Code standards.

This change will allow developers to build smaller units, such as mirco-units, if they see fit. Micro-units are typically one room living units that are smaller than a studio. Think of a hotel room or a student dorm room. To be fair, micro-units aren’t for everyone, but they may be appropriate for some. And because of their small size they are typically more affordable.

That is straight-forward enough.  And, as they said, smaller or micro-unit might not be for everyone, but it does not have to be.  Allowing them provides an alternative and is a choice that some people might make.

The second part is addresses accessory dwelling units (ADU).  While these are often apartments over detached garages and the like, they can be other things.

Currently, the City requires a minimum lot size of 5,800 SF for a homeowner to be eligible to build an ADU. With this change, the minimum lot size will be reduced to 4,500 SF. This change may not seem significant but it will open up approximately 9,617 lots citywide for potential ADUs. That’s about a 43% increase in eligible lots.

ADUs are already very common in desirable neighborhoods like Old Northeast, Crescent Lake, Historic Uptown, and Historic Roser Park. This change will simply allow homeowners in other neighborhoods to build ADUs too, potentially adding to St. Pete’s housing stock.

Once again, this is a reasonable change.  It may not be for everyone, but it does not have to be.  It just has to be for some.  It provides alternatives.

The final part has to do with minimum parking requirements for multifamily developments.

Currently, new multifamily buildings in Downtown St. Pete are required to have one space per multifamily unit. These requirements are higher in St. Pete’s traditional and suburban neighborhoods. With the approved reduction in parking minimums, the City will require parking based on unit size.

This means that for new multifamily buildings in Downtown St. Pete, units under 750 square feet will no longer have parking requirements while units above 750 square feet will continue to have a one space per unit requirement. The grid shown to the left displays the approved changes.

The City is also hoping to spark development of affordable housing and development near high frequency transit routes by providing additional parking reductions. Affordable housing projects, where at least 50% of the units are designated “affordable”, will be able to reduce their parking requirement by an additional 10%. And for affordable senior housing projects, the parking requirement is reduced by an additional 5%. Additionally, multifamily developments located within 1/8th mile of high frequency transit routes, defined as a route that comes every 35 minutes or less, are eligible for a 10% reduction.

And these reductions are stackable. Meaning an affordable senior housing project near a frequent bus route could reduce it’s parking requirement by 25%. The hope is that the cost savings from requiring less parking will be passed on to residents in the form of lower rents.

 

From St. Pete Rising – click on picture for website

That is a start, though, we agree with URBN Tampa Bay:

This is a good step in the right direction, though these cuts are a bit modest. Also, we personally don’t see why one would discriminate against units which are more than 750 square feet vs. units less than 750 square in Downtown. Nonetheless, this code change is a positive step in making housing more affordable and improving urban design.

We support deeper cuts in parking requirements here in Tampa.

Particularly in walkable urban areas, we see no need for parking minimums at all.  Of course, some (probably most) developments are going to build parking because most people will want some, but that does not mean all people want it or that all developments need it.  In those urban areas at least, it should be a matter of choice.  (If St. Pete had robust transit, we would say the same for the areas it served.)

Overall, just like we commend Hillsborough County for putting money into affordable housing, we commend St. Pete for beginning this process. However, there is more to be done.  We look forward to seeing the other proposals St. Pete comes up with, and we look forward to hearing what Tampa will do.  Affordable housing is a complicated problem but there are things that can and should be done.


Because We Can

The tower cranes are being installed at the 1001 Water Street site.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We look forward to watching it grow.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of North America

A while back we discussed the controversy surrounding Quayside, a proposed urban development project in Toronto by Google’s Sidewalk Labs arm.  This week, there was more news. From the Guardian (UK):

A controversial smart city development in Canada has hit another roadblock after an oversight panel called key aspects of the proposal “irrelevant”, “unnecessary” and “frustratingly abstract” in a new report.

The project on Toronto’s waterfront, dubbed Quayside, is a partnership between the city and Google’s sister company Sidewalk Labs. It promises “raincoats” for buildings, autonomous vehicles and cutting-edge wood-frame towers, but has faced numerous criticisms in recent months.

The latest critique comes with just over a month to go before the city decides to approve or reject the project. It was prepared by the Digital Strategy Advisory Panel, an arms-length group that advises Waterfront Toronto, which oversees the sprawling development.

You can read the full article here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

The Netherlands has probably the most developed bicycle culture in the world, so if you want to know how to build a proper bicycle infrastructure, that is probably a good place to look.  The New Yorker had an article that did just that.  If you are interested, it can be found here.

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