Hurricane storm surge (Photo credit: NOAA)

FL - Heated debate accompanies City Council vote on development in flood-prone areas

The St. Petersburg City Council is moving forward with a plan to allow some development in flood-prone areas of the city.

About 41 percent of the city is in the Coastal High Hazard Area.

The City Council voted to advance the controversial plan for the Coastal High Hazard Area, after a wide ranging, two-hour debate Thursday night that touched on climate change, hurricane preparedness and gentrification.

Twenty people spoke at a public hearing. About half of the speakers urged council members to delay their decision and wait for a broader discussion about land use in the city over the next three decades. Other speakers said the plan already has been the subject of several meetings and provides a thoughtful approach to regulated development.

The Coastal High Hazard Area, or CHHA, is the designation for sites where the property is below the elevation of the expected storm surge from a Category 1 hurricane. About 41 percent of the city of St. Petersburg is in the Coastal High Hazard Area.

The multi-part plan would increase safety by establishing stronger building standards throughout the CHHA, said Liz Abernethy, director of planning and development services.

The plan allows targeted increases in development in about one-third of the CHHA, while continuing to prohibit any changes in the remaining areas, Abernethy said. It expands redevelopment opportunities and reduces redevelopment pressure in the remaining 60 percent of the city, and promotes sustainability and resiliency goals, she said. Developers of all new multifamily and hotel projects would be required to provide hurricane evacuation and re-entry plans, Abernethy said.

It does not automatically allow new development, but opens the way for developers to ask for new projects that would increase the number of dwelling units per acre, or density, of property in the CHHA, something they are currently prohibited from doing.

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