As many of you know, city council last Thursday evening passed sweeping changes to the zoning regulations that affect many neighborhoods throughout St. Petersburg. We have had several calls and emails since the news broke Friday morning requesting more information on how this will affect property owners, their rights, and what they can and cannot build.
I wanted to take this opportunity to explain at length how the rules have changed and how they will affect any potential construction activity going forward. This is a long newsletter but I encourage you to read it in it’s entirety and forward to anyone you know who may also be affected. If you are already permitted to build or renovate, then none of these rules will apply to your existing construction.
Changes affecting all zoning districts:
1. The City flood plain has been raised another foot above the FEMA floodplain (which currently sits at 10 ft. above sea level). The finished floor of any structure built in a flood zone must now lie at 13 feet (previously 12′). The maximum allowable height has not been adjusted upwards, so homes cannot be any taller than currently allowed in any zoning district. The easiest way to account for this difference is to adjust ceiling height down by one foot or consider a shallower pitched or flat roof.
Changes affecting any NT zoning (Neighborhood – Traditional):
1. The buildable area (or FAR which stands for floor area ratio) of all lots has been reduced from .7 for .4 (from 70% to 40%). That means a structure of any kind may not take up any more than 40% of the surface area of a lot and this includes ancillary structures like garages, entryways, porches, and patios. This restriction applies to existing structures as well as new structures, so if you were to consider an addition instead of a new build, you would still have to meet the new .4 FAR criteria.
Currently, approximately 55% of all structures in NT zoned districts do NOT conform to these new standards, and therefore would not qualify for additions or expansions of any kind. Should a structure be damaged or destroyed by natural forces, the replacement structure would still be required to meet these new restrictions.
2. There is one concession offered for FAR on new two-story structures only: if the second story is set back an additional 10 feet from the first story on 3 of 4 sides, first floor FAR is allowed to move from .4 to .6 (40% to 60%). This is still a 10% net decrease in buildable area and presents some architectural challenges, especially on narrow lots. This concession is also NOT available in Historic Old Northeast.
These changes are effective only in neighborhoods with NT zoning. This includes the Old Northeast, Granada Terrace, Allendale Terrace, Crescent Lake, Historic Uptown, Greater Kenwood, Oak Park, Palmetto Park, Old Southeast, Driftwood, Roser Park, Old Pasadena, Lake Pasadena, and the Park Street corridor from Pasadena Ave S to 9th Ave N.
Neighborhoods NOT affected include Snell Isle, Venetian Isles, Shore Acres, Renaissance, Coquina Key, Bahama Shores, Pinellas Point, Broadwater, Bayway Isles, The Jungle, Harshaw, Meadowlawn, Causeway Isles and Yacht Club Estates.
The average lot size in Old Northeast, Kenwood, Uptown, and Crescent Lake is 4950 sqft (45 x 110). Under the new restrictions, a new or existing structure on one of these lots may not exceed 1980 gross sqft. Account for a 2 car garage, small front porch, and small back porch, and the livable square footage would be around 900-1000 sqft. That is approximately the size of a 2 bedroom 1 bathroom apartment at Beacon 430 or Modera Prime.
Now consider that the average livable square footage of the Old Northeast is 1560 sqft. If this average home sat on an average lot, and if the owner or a potential buyer wanted to add on more space, the only way to go is up because the structure already exceeds the 40% restriction. BUT because the home occupies more than 40% of the buildable area, the upstairs living space would have to be set back on three sides. So if the lot were the average 45 feet wide, the second floor addition could only be maximum 10 feet wide.
As a result, a simple one or two room lateral addition becomes a whole home reconstruction project, doubling or tripling the potential cost based on structural engineering and finishes, and providing a legal staircase could be added to the center of the structure in a functional manner. However, it also doesn’t make sense to tear the house down, because a new home would have to be even smaller than the existing home.
How do you think this will affect the average home’s resale value? Especially given that room additions are now no longer an option for 55% of the homes in these districts? How much harder will it be now for a seller to find a buyer who’s needs exactly fit the profile of a home?
While these rules have just been enacted, I am predicting we will see some significant fallout in the coming months from sellers in historic neighborhoods. Ultimately, if you fall outside the NT zoning, your property value may well see a boost as buyers will opt to move to neighborhoods where homes can still be adapted or rebuilt to suit their individual needs. And for those who do choose to add on to historic structures, we are going to see a lot more tall houses, which was one of the main grievances of the HOAs in these historic neighborhoods.
Change is inevitable, and the buyer pool, like our downtown, has changed dramatically in recent years. While we believe in protecting historic structures and the ambience of our charming neighborhoods, I still personally believe this can be better accomplished through more thoughtful design and attention to detail instead of simply restricting all construction activity across the board.
Please call, text or email at any time if you have any questions or concerns about these changes or how they will affect the value of your property or any planned construction or renovation activity. We are here to help!