Saturday, April 22, 2017

Millennials, young families, and “big boxes”. An editorial in Tampa Bay Times (“Winner of 12 Pulitzer Prizes”).

The editorial published by the Tampa Bay Times (2 excerpts below) on April 20th titled, “Balancing neighborhood character, new housing designs” will be of interest to many here in Palm Beach County and in cities such as Lake Worth as well. The challenges here in South Florida for coastal communities are not unique.

Zoning can be a mundane topic for many but can turn into a firestorm of controversy, and very quickly, if neighborhoods think their quality of life could change due to changes in the zoning code: more traffic, more noise, more demands on already stretched city services. Back in 2015 when a group called the Lake Worth Artist and Cottage Entrepreneurs (ACE) began an initiative to change City zoning codes to allow for more “home occupations”, little did they know what they were walking into.

The mistake ACE made was not making this a community and City-wide discussion and instead sought to build political support to move forward with changes to the zoning code. Two elected commissioners were sympathetic with their objectives. Those 2 electeds are no longer commissioners here in this City of Lake Worth.

Every city, big or small, has to deal with these challenges of an evolving economy and changes in housing preferences. Here is how the editors at the Tampa Bay Times see their region’s future going forward:

The cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa have plenty to offer millennials and young families, including beautiful parks, bustling bar and restaurant scenes and improving job prospects. One challenge is housing, much of it aging and small by comparison to the 3/2s of modern suburbia. Developers are eager to resolve the mismatch by building bigger, modern homes that can appear out of scale in established neighborhoods. As the Tampa Bay area evolves, urban planners should strive for a better balance between preserving the character of neighborhoods and encouraging a housing renewal that meets the needs of younger residents.

and. . .

That’s where codes and zoning come in. One builder’s representative said in an email to St. Petersburg officials that it’s not “the government’s business to tell a family what size home they should have.” Maybe not what size, but certainly where, and with reasonable conditions. When uniformly enforced, zoning preserves the integrity of neighborhoods by limiting home size, requiring setbacks from neighboring properties and providing incentives to make new houses fit in. St. Petersburg, for example, is considering sensible new guidelines that would limit home size but allow builders to exceed the maximum if they incorporate design enhancements that mitigate the “big box” feel of new homes. Those kind of incentives leave flexibility for people to build the house they want while having a positive long-term effect on how neighborhoods evolve.

Do you live in Lake Worth? Do you know how your neighborhood is zoned? Use this link and spend some time going through the resources and maps. For example, do you know the height limit in your neighborhood? All that information is on the City’s website.