Make us your home page
Instagram

Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

South St. Pete CRA starts accepting grant applications

Tuesday marked an opening day of sorts for the South St. Petersburg Community Redvelopmentl Area, which covers neighborhoods in Midtown and Childs Park.

The city began accepting applications for grants drawing from the area's tax increment financing revenue, estimated to be about $470,000.

So far, about 40 applications have come in, said Rick Smith, the city's redevelopment coordinator. That's about 10 more than he expected for the first day.

Soon, the city will convene a selection committee made up of administators to rank the applications. Urban Affairs Director Nikki Capeheart cautioned that no one application is likely to get fully funded.

The committee should meet before the end of June, Smith said.

No deadline has been set yet for applications, which so far have been mostly for commercial improvements, Smith said.

 

 

Full Story

Stacy White: No more bear hunts

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, a staunch conservative, joins the growing ranks of local officials opposed to the state's bear hunt.

[DANIEL WALLACE, Times]

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, a staunch conservative, joins the growing ranks of local officials opposed to the state's bear hunt.

It wasn't exactly shocking when St. Petersburg Council member Karl Nurse came out recently to oppose another statewide bear hunt.

A Democrat who regularly takes stands for tougher gun laws, environmental causes, and smart growth policies, Nurse is just the type of politician one would expect to oppose the hunt.

But Republican, tea-party-backed Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White? 

Yup.

In today's Tampa Bay Times, White, an avid hunter, said he couldn't support the bear hunt because there are already too few bears. White said he will bring forward a resolution against the hunt at the County Commission meeting. 

If commissioners approve White's resolution, Hillsborough would join other communities -- Clermont, Eustis, Deltona and Miami-Dade who oppose the hunt. St. Petersburg will be considering Nurse's request, as well.

Check out White's reasoning here.

Full Story

Nearly 100 Dunedin residents protest local church's plan to sell to developers

Dunedin resident Pat Higgens, 69, holds a sign during a Sunday morning protest in front of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. Leaders plan to sell a portion of church's property that backs up to Hammock Park to developers hoping to build townhouses.

MEGAN REEVES | Times

Dunedin resident Pat Higgens, 69, holds a sign during a Sunday morning protest in front of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. Leaders plan to sell a portion of church's property that backs up to Hammock Park to developers hoping to build townhouses.

Following last Wednesday's jam-packed and contentious Development Review Committee meeting about the proposed development of land connected to Hammock Park, nearly 100 Dunedin residents showed up outside Our Lady of Lourdes' Sunday morning mass to protest.

The church sits on a 34-acre parcel at 750 San Salvador Drive, owned by the Diocese of St. Petersburg, and wants to sell about 8 acres if it to Taylor Morrison Homes, a development company hoping to build townhomes there. 

Father Gary Dowsey says the church has been trying to sell the portion of land backing up to Hammock Park since last summer, after he realized it was a liability to allow the public to continue using it as a part of the park. In February, the church offered the land to the city for $1.2 million, but commissioners declined, saying the price was too high for something not in the city's strategic plan for parkland.

"We offered it to the city first and foremost, and they decided they didn't want to buy it," Dowsey said. "We told them we would be looking into developers." …

Full Story

Oh, the irony: Hillsborough would kill for St. Petersburg's downtown problem

The 100 block of First Avenue N is the site of One St. Petersburg, a 41-story, 253-unit condo tower with adjacent 173-room Hyatt hotel. Some see St. Petersburg's downtown boom coming at the cost of the rest of the city, but it's the kind of infill Hillsborough County envies.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

The 100 block of First Avenue N is the site of One St. Petersburg, a 41-story, 253-unit condo tower with adjacent 173-room Hyatt hotel. Some see St. Petersburg's downtown boom coming at the cost of the rest of the city, but it's the kind of infill Hillsborough County envies.

TAMPA — Hillsborough County would love to have the problem some think St. Petersburg has right now.

As Tampa Bay Times reporter Charlie Frago wrote on Friday, at least one elected official in St. Petersburg fears that their downtown’s boom has come at the expense of the rest of the city and county. And they blame the city’s impact fee structure, which heavily incentivizes growth near the urban center versus other parts of St. Petersburg.

"Essentially what we're doing is subsidizing downtown redevelopment from the rest of the city,” City Council member Karl Nurse said.

For example: A sit-down restaurant  is assessed $2,181 per 1,000 square feet, compared with $8,205 in most of the city, an apartment unit costs $972 downtown versus $1,420 in the rest of the city, and condos pay $924 in the downtown and Midtown districts; $1,248 elsewhere.

Meanwhile, across the bay, Hillsborough is desperately trying to push growth toward the county’s existing urban areas. That effort has included enacting the same kind of incentives that Nurse is railing against. …

Full Story

Tarpon police close investigation of mysterious letters

Tarpon Springs police have closed the investigation into a string of mysterious letters anonymously sent to three former city officials after a contentious mayoral election in March.

A report says the "incident does not appear to rise to the level of a criminal investigation." But "should a continued course of conduct, with no legitimate purpose, persist, we can review the facts anew to see if it meets the statutory requirements for stalking."

The recipients -- former Mayor Anita Protos, former City Manager Beverly Billiris and former Commissioner Cindy Sanner -- each told the Times they thought the letters were a form of retaliation by members of Mayor Chris Alahouzos' campaign for their outspoken criticisms of him during the election against Frank DiDonato.

But the report says Protos was the only person involved in the incident to speak with investigators. Billiris and Sanner both said they didn't want to be involved, and Becky Archer, wife of former Commissioner Jim Archer, who prompted the investigation by bringing a complaint to city officials on May 2, did not return investigator's calls, the report said.

Full Story

St. Pete council member wants city to oppose bear hunt

Last fall's bear hunt brough national attention to Florida, not all of it positive. 

Hunters killed 304 bears, so many that the state shut down the hunt after two days.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will decide on June 22 whether another bear hunt will be allowed this year. 

For St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse, the commission's decision should be an easy one: No.

"The 2015 bear hunt far exceeded permitted bear shootings," Nurse wrote in a new business item to be considered at the June 2 meeting. "We once again run the risk of wiping out the bears by another hunt."

Nurse wants the council to approve a resolution opposing any bear hunt. 

The state's black bear epicenter--Seminole County--- passed a similar measure last week, joining other nearby communities like Clermont, Eustis and Deltona. Miami-Dade also opposed another hunt.

 

Full Story

Historic Kenwood program gains national nod

Historic Kenwood has come a long way since it's charming bungalows first captured the rehabbers' imagination a few decades ago.

But skyrocketing sale prices and eager bungalow tourists aren't the only signs of the neighborhood's success.

At the Neighborhoods, USA national conference in Memphis on Friday, the neighborhood won first place in the "Physical Revitalization-Single Neighborhood" category.

The prize honored the neighborhood's partnership program, which paired volunteers and city crew to repair and spruce up six homes and assisted nearby neighborhoods in setting up similar ventures.

You can read more about the effort here

Neighborhoods,USA is a national non-profit dedicated to strengthening neighborhood organizations. 

 

Full Story

Tiger Bay's third rail? Light rail, obvs.

Suncoast Tiger Bay Club has a reputation of getting a little rowdy from time to time.

It’s one they’ve spent the past year trying to change, Tiger Bay President and Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long said.

But old instincts die hard. So it didn’t come as much of a surprise when Friday’s discussion about transportation, one of the most heated topics in Tampa Bay, turned a little raucous.

Whit Blanton, the executive director of the Pinellas MPO (now combined with the the Pinellas Planning Council under the recently announced title Forward Pinellas), was the speaker, addressing the crowd on development, roads, transit and the future of the county.

After a brief presentation, he fielded questions, most of which were pretty tame.  Then St. Petersburg surgeon David McKalip stood up and began reading from a card.

“When will local and regional authorities respect that people have made… an informed choice and decision on not wanting rail in this county,” McKalip asked, “and rather than be pushing that agenda show respect for the citizens rather than show contempt and keep light rail off the agenda?”

Several in the room applauded. One man shouted, “yeah!” And then came a few boos. …

Full Story

If Hillsborough transportation tax drops to 10 years, it could lose its biggest supporter

Traffic in Hillsborough County. Commissioners continue to bat around plans to address the problem with a sales tax hike but can't agree on how long it should last.

Times File Photo

Traffic in Hillsborough County. Commissioners continue to bat around plans to address the problem with a sales tax hike but can't agree on how long it should last.

TAMPA — Getting to four votes on a sales tax hike to fund transportation in Hillsborough County has proven difficult (to say the least), and commissioners in favor of that option continue to tinker with the duration of the surcharge in the hopes of reaching a majority.

Three commissioners who voted against half-cent sales tax increases of 20 and 30 years last month — Sandy Murman, Victor Crist and Al Higginbotham — are lukewarm, or at best undecided, about the latest iteration: Asking voters to approve a 15-year tax in a November referendum. (Commissioner Stacy White, the fourth commissioner to vote no on April 27, opposes any sales tax increase at this time.)

Murman told the Tampa Bay Times that 15 years was still too long for her and instead floated a 10-year proposal. Her logic being that commissioners approved a 10-year, $905 million list of transportation projects last month, so the tax should match that duration.

“I don’t know how we can consider more than 10 years,” Murman said. …

Full Story

Tampa Chamber: Hillsborough commission should revisit 20-year transportation tax

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce wants Hillsborough County Commissioners to revisit putting a 20-year sales tax for transportation on the November ballot.

The commission rejected a half-cent sales tax referendum last month. But almost immediately after that vote, some commissioners, businesses and community members started advocating for other options, such as a 15-year plan.

The chamber is the latest group to urge commissioners to reconsider asking voters to approve a transportation sales tax, this time for at least 20 years.

“Rather than allowing residents to vote on an option of at least 20 years, the Board of County Commissioners is now considering a 15-year option,” the chamber said in a release Thursday. “This is an insufficient response to our community’s transportation needs and we urge our County Commissioners to revisit their prior actions and support the option of a half-cent sales tax for a duration of at least 20 years.

“Voters should have the right to make the decision on the funding of our future transportation options and our elected officials have the responsibility of giving them a viable solution.”

 

Full Story

Atlanta and Texas lap Rays with new stadium plans

Remember 2007? The splashy announcement about a new baseball stadium on the waterfront? Remember the Sail?

It's been a long time since Tampa Bay baseball fans had a chance to dream about new digs. Yes, the team is evaluating sites now. And decision is expected sometime in the next six to eight months after the team reached a January agreement with the St. Petersburg City Council to explore other spots in the region.

And, by the end of September, HKS, a New York firm, will have a master plan for Tropicana Field's 85 acres that will feature a stadium as part of the redevelopment. They're in the stadium business so some splashy renderings of a new ballpark might well be delivered, too.

Meawhile, two Major League Baseball teams -- the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers --- are moving ahead with new stadiums. Both of their current homes were built after the Trop: Globe Life Park opened in 1994; Turner Field in 1996. 

The Braves will play in neighboring Cobb County next season. The turnaround from announcement to halfway mark has been speedy, although the process has come under fire for its secrecy, lack of a public vote and how to pay for a pedestrian bridge across I-285. …

Full Story

Tampa Bay Express clears latest hurdle

Traffic on northbound Interstate 275 through downtown Tampa slows to a crawl in January during construction.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Traffic on northbound Interstate 275 through downtown Tampa slows to a crawl in January during construction.

Tampa Bay Express, a $6 billion project that will revamp 50 miles of the interstate, overcame its latest hurdle Tuesday when a policy committee voted to move forward with the recommended five-year plan.

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization policy committee reviewed the Transportation Improvement Program -- the group’s list of transportation projects planned for the next five years which it must approve annually -- and voted unanimously to pass it up the chain to the full MPO board. The MPO is expected to vote on approving the five-year plan (and, thus, TBX) during a June 22 public hearing.

The audience at MPO meetings is usually stacked with anti-TBX protesters. Nearly 10 people spoke during public comment Tuesday, but, this time, most of them were members of the business community who supported the massive interstate project which will also add toll lanes to otherwise free roads.

“TBX is a tremendous opportunity,” said Ann Kulig, executive director of the Westshore Alliance.”It gives us a once in-a-lifetime opportunity to make new connections in Westshore.” …

Full Story

Could Hillsborough commissioners put 30-year transportation tax back in play?

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller raised the prospect that a 20- or 30-year sales tax could be brought back to life.

Times File Photo

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller raised the prospect that a 20- or 30-year sales tax could be brought back to life.

TAMPA — There have been a lot of strange and surprising twists and turns in Hillsborough County’s ongoing saga to pass a transportation funding plan.

So just file this tidbit away for a later date.

At a transportation workshop today, Commissioner Les Miller asked County Attorney Chip Fletcher whether the board could still pass a half cent sales tax for 20 years or 30 years. Recall, commissioners voted 4-3 in April against both those proposals.

It seems they can.

As Fletcher noted, the commission’s rules of order state: “Upon motion by any Commissioner, the Board may consider an action that did not pass in a prior meeting.”

Commissioners are scheduled to meet June 9 to decide whether or not to raise the sales from 7 percent to 7.5 percent for a duration of 15 years to pay for roads and transit . The vote to consider a 15-year tax was a surprise that brought back to life a sales tax hike that many thought was dead after the April vote.

Apparently, the 20- and 30-year option could be revived as well. Miller was a strong advocate for a 30-year tax. …

Full Story

Hillsborough homeless count drops nearly 6 percent from 2015

Volunteer Melissa Brass interviews Robert Gatlin at a park in downtown Tampa during Hillsborough County's annual homeless count in 2013. This year, the most recent survey found 1,817 homeless individuals, a drop of nearly 6 percent from the 2015 count.

SKIP O'ROURKE | Times (2013)

Volunteer Melissa Brass interviews Robert Gatlin at a park in downtown Tampa during Hillsborough County's annual homeless count in 2013. This year, the most recent survey found 1,817 homeless individuals, a drop of nearly 6 percent from the 2015 count.

The total number of homeless people in Hillsborough County dropped nearly 6 percent to 1,817 since last year, according to the county’s annual count of individuals and families on the street or in shelters.

To do the count, the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative had 330 volunteers fan out across the county, covering streets, alleys, spaces under bridges, wooded campsites and soup kitchens between 5:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25.

Of those counted, 62 percent were men or boys, 38 percent women or girls. Nineteen percent were younger than 18, while 7 percent were older than 60. Nearly a third said they had been homeless for at least a year, and more than half said they were homeless because they lacked a job or had financial problems.

“If I had the money, I’d buy a house," 30-year-old Jon Lloyd told a reporter on the day of the count. "But at my income level now, I’m better off buying a toothbrush and shampoo and washing up over there,” pointing to a spigot near Church Park in Town 'N' Country.

The count also found that: …

Full Story

Former Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth tweets "dysfunction within City Hall is astounding"

For the past several months, former Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth has flirted with the idea of getting back into local politics to put a stop to what he calls "dysfunction" in City Hall. He brought it up in 2012, again in January and now in a tweet:

 

 

Hackworth was responding to a posting of a Times article about the recent closing of a Sunshine Law investigation of Commissioner Heather Gracy and Vice Mayor Bruce Livingston that opened following the forced resignation of Rob DiSpirito in January. He said although the investigation didn't yield any evidence of wrongdoing, he doesn't believe the commissioners' actions were fair.

"I understand the evidence of criminal activity was not there, but I think that there was plenty of evidence to indicate that people were acting in inappropriate ways that didn't serve the best interest of the city of Dunedin," he said in a later interview with the Times. "Our residents are looking for good government -- it's what they deserve -- and I don't think they're getting that." …

Full Story