Hotly-debated Coquina Key housing development receives city approval

Hotly-debated Coquina Key housing development receives city approval

An expansive and hotly-debated redevelopment project in Coquina Key has taken a significant step to move forward with plans to revitalize Coquina Key Plaza. After receiving approval on an amendment to the zoning map, the 14.2-acre project led by St. Pete-based real estate investment firm Stoneweg plans to bring a significant amount of housing and least 20,000 square feet of retail space to the property located at 4350 6th Street South and 575 45th Avenue South.

Stoneweg later shared a revised developer’s agreement, specifically with regards to the retail space of the project, at which point City Council could give the development a formal greenlight. Of course, while it appears the project is likely to move forward, further discussion and community input could potentially de-rail plans.

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During a January 4 Development Review Board meeting, members approved the proposal. A full breakdown of the request and recommendation can be read on the city’s website.

Bay News 9’s Angie Angers has the following quote from the meeting: “The big talk about this has been the lack of a grocery store. But I think it’s more like a chess game here where Publix and the others aren’t coming in yet,” said committee member Chuck Flynt. “You have density issues, income issues, things like that. I think this is one step closer to putting some income level there and some density level there… towards being able to potentially move out of getting out of that food desert.

This plan could bring the area one step closer to attracting a major grocer such as Publix, which is the result many in the neighborhood want.

When the redevelopment project was first proposed, it received divided reactions from those in the neighborhood and throughout St. Pete. While the objection was strong, major parts of a deal have been struck to amend the zoning area to allow for the size and style of buildings called for. As it stands, the project will include a significant number of affordable housing units, and must have at least 20,000 square feet of ground-level retail space, preferably to house a fresh grocery.

The proposal was first approved by the City Community Planning and Preservation Commission (CPPC), and was then recommended by the City of St. Pete before being sent to City Council for approval. At City Council’s most recent meeting this September, the proposal was partially accepted, paving the way for the development to move forward and potentially begin. The draft concept plan submitted to the city shows big plans for the area that would bring a completely new style of development to the area, including several residential buildings, two parking garages, and an outdoor retail area in addition to the indoor spaces.

A concept plan for Coquina Key Plaza
The concept plan for the Coquina Key Plaza redevelopment, via City of St. Pete/BDG Architects

Arguments center around fixing the food desert

Our initial reporting, below, focused on the divided opinions the development evoked.

While the center is partially vacant, the current Coquina Key Plaza has more than 100,000 square feet of total available retail space, so the new project would mean slashing that significantly. Detractors also point out that no similar development exists in the area, saying there is a reason the 45-foot height limit was put in place, and that changing the zoning would lead to more such developments. The project would also become one of several in the area by Stoneweg that all together would significantly increase the population density of the neighborhood.

Of course, proponents of the plan (or at the very least, those who aren’t opposed) point out that increased population density is important for St. Pete’s growth, particularly given the shortage of affordable housing. More people also means more customers for the potential grocery store, which they say could make the difference in success where previous attempts have failed.

With no grocer in the plaza currently, the neighborhood is in a food desert. Some of those against the development say this will wipe out the only space big enough to bring in a new grocer. On the other side, many of those in favor say this will help give a potential grocer confidence that it can be profitable in the neighborhood.

Locals react online and debate the pros and cons

The project has sparked conversation and debate on the Coquina Key Neighborhood Association facebook page, where locals have voiced their opinions on either side of the issue.

From one commenter against the project, named Susan: “What happened to ‘mixed use’? I am tired of residents of south St. Pete being treated as second class citizens. We need a grocery store, drug store and bank at the least. Leave the high rises to Downtown!”

From another, named Alexandra: “We can agree with a 4 story but a 7 story will change our community drastically. Imagine the traffic to reach Coquina Key!”

Jason Mathis, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, expressed a desire for added density: “This will be a VAST improvement to what is there right now. If we want a full grocery store in our neighborhood we need the density that will convince Publix (or someone else) that it’s a good investment. This is progress.”

Shaquille Lashley, a St. Pete realtor, laid out an argument in favor: “15-story, 7-story, 3-story doesn’t affect anyone’s quality of life . Zero. Zilch. The notion of “suburban character” is the exact reason why America is in the affordable housing crisis that it is in right now. It’s because of these exact racist and classist zoning codes that confine people into certain areas. Everyone complains that “there’s no investment in the Southside” “what about the Southside?” Here’s a developer willing to clean up the blight that is 4th st/6th st south.”

Stay tuned to I Love the Burg for more updates as the process moves along.

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