The Tampa Bay Business Journal featured Trenam shareholders Tim Hughes, Don Mastry and Rob Stern in a full-page reflection on the region’s growth in the publication’s September 17, 2021 issue.
Mastry, who has been providing zoning and land use counsel in St. Pete for more than 50 years, highlighted the major strides St. Pete has taken through the years to transform from a retirement city to an actual city. “I remember years ago, our kids here, they’d graduate from high school, go to college and never come back,” Mastry said. “Now they want to come back. And they’re bringing friends with them. It’s pretty dynamic.”
While most of St. Pete’s population growth occurred in the 1950s when retirees flocked to the area and development focused largely on low-density retirement homes, it’s all about redevelopment these days in Pinellas County, the most densely populated in Florida.
Mastry notes that out-of-towners selling homes for large amounts of money and buying nice homes in Pinellas, with money left over, has been a driver of growth in the region, as well as elevated home prices. The same can be said for inland population growth between Tampa and Orlando, which Mastry expects to continue in a big way over the next 25 and 50 years.
Such significant growth presents obvious economic opportunities as well as challenges – especially for the younger generation helping to drive growth in the region – a such as infrastructure issues and a market that leaves the younger generation accepting small apartments with high rents. Looking to the future, climate change and affordable housing are issues cities need to address, and St. Petersburg has been a leader in these respects according to Mastry. “It passed an ordinance a little over a year ago, where if the unit is under 750 square feet, you don’t have to provide parking for it, which apparently is popular with the younger people,” he said. “They don’t have a need for a car. They use bicycles, scooters, Uber and buses.”
On the issue of climate change, Hughes highlighted the potential increase of solar power options in the region and obstacles to doing what’s needed. “This type of green approach is becoming somewhat commonplace on all new developments,” Hughes said. “Florida is very unique in terms of its regulatory framework as to how solar power is regulated. We are only one of I think, last time I counted, four other states in the United States that do not allow a private party to sell power to another private party. You have to be sold to a public utility company. So that’s somewhat restricting here.”
While Pinellas is redeveloping at a fast clip, Stern noted that the local zoning and permitting landscape presents unique challenges. “All of Florida right now is being overwhelmed with 1,000 people a day and people trying to build,” Stern said. “But trying to get regionalized would be great. The fragmented nature is pretty unique to Pinellas County. Jacksonville, for example, is one massive city and one massive county government. So all of Jacksonville, there’s one zoning administrator and one code. Pinellas is 20 little sub-cities.”
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