How did we get here? A history behind efforts to protect the unique character of Tampa Heights.
In 1995, the Tampa Heights National Historic District was created. In 2000, a local Historic District was created with slightly enlarged boundaries, and overlay design standards were implemented for the Local Historic District only.
Only a fraction of the neighborhood was included due to the lack of concentration of historic structures in the western half of Tampa Heights. However, a few select historic buildings in this area were included. However, most other remaining historic homes were not included in the district, and the original street grid mostly remains.
THCA regularly requested additional protections from the City for the entire neighborhood since the foundation of the Historic District in 2000
In 2012, Soho Capital acquired the roughly 43 acre riverfront redevelopment site, including the old Armature Works building, which had previously been entitled for large scale development by the prior master developer. THCA knew that as we climbed out of the Great Recession and as the Armature Works site was redeveloped, immense development interest would hit Tampa Heights. THCA wanted to beat the next development rush.
In 2014, THCA put the following goal on its Strategic Plan: "Create an overlay residential design district for the west half of neighborhood to preserve character as new homes are built." Later that year, THCA was promised by the City of Tampa Zoning Administrator that a form-based code overlay process would commence in 2015.
Seminole Heights has a form-based code overlay, and the process took from 2008 to 2011 to implement. So THCA knew it would take several years, but wanted this process started and continued to request it.
For several years, Tampa Heights was told we were "next in line" for the overlay because they weren't done with other neighborhoods yet and had limited resources. City of Tampa Urban Designer Mike Callahan told City Council in April 2016 that Tampa Heights "will come under its own regulatory framework in terms of being developed out. But we are in process. This is our next plan, community plan, which will have its own regulatory structure." At that same meeting, City Council even considered spending CRA money to hire consultants to update zoning regulations in Tampa Heights, Ybor, and Downtown. But that didn't happen.
THCA petitioned the City every year and was consistently told a lack of resources was causing continual delay of our promised overlay. Tampa Heights residents continued to grow impatient and concerned.
In 2019, representatives of THCA met with City of Tampa staff and Planning Commission staff; we were told resources still didn't exist, that there was no political will for new overlays, and that form-based codes had fallen out of favor at City Hall. We were told we must write our own code without City assistance and submit it via the Privately Initiated Text Amendment (PITA) process.
A subcommittee met several times during 2019 on the subject. This subcommittee included the following types of professionals, all from Tampa Heights: community activists, real estate developers, construction managers, architects, real estate agents, land use attorneys, and others. We analyzed codes from each of the City's historic districts, the West Tampa overlay, the Seminole Heights form-based code, and other examples around the country. We started drafting up a code.
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in March 2020, THCA's activities as a volunteer organization were significantly impacted, as were most individual's home and professional lives. Work on the PITA was sidelined.
In 2021, a rebuilt THCA board took back up the issue of creating a form-based overlay. This priority was discussed at every THCA Board and General Meeting. A conversation restarted with City Planning staff. First, THCA was told a PITA was still the only route; then told expansion of Historic District is possible; then that option was struck down by Historic Preservation Staff.
THCA board members and other engaged residents completed the draft that was started in 2019. The full text of the draft was posted to the THCA website in May 2021, was read aloud at the May and June general meetings, and has been included with a summary and link to the full text in every THCA email newsletter since July.
The THCA Board voted to support the draft PITA in July 2021, and submitted it to the City of Tampa for initial review that month.
The PITA is still in draft form and is available for public review, critiques, and suggestions.
City Planning staff, again claiming staff and resource shortages, provided THCA with their first review comments on January 5, 2021. THCA is currently working with City staff to further refine the code language before the PITA can be "workshopped" to City Council.
If you've read this far, then you see how it takes years of commitment and persistence by successive THCA Boards to shepherd regulatory reform through multiple real estate cycles, mayoral administrations, city council configurations, and city staff changes. That statement sadly applies to too many issues in this city. Our local governments are not proactive, but reactive - and slowly, at that.
Common misconceptions about Save Tampa Heights and the code amendment we support:
1. What are we saving Tampa Heights from? From losing what's left of its unique historic character, and from missed opportunities to shape the ideal community for affordability, walkability, transit-oriented design, mixed-uses, cultural richness, and architectural compatibility.
2. We are not anti-development, anti-townhome, or anti-density. Please read the website and the code amendment. Nowhere does it espouse opposition to multifamily housing. From an urban planning perspective, moderate density belongs in Tampa Heights. It takes advantage of its walkable/bikeable amenities inside the neighborhood (and destinations like Armature Works, Downtown, Ybor City, etc. all being within a mile of our limits). It creates the density necessary for supporting a robust public transportation system.
3. The code amendment does not prohibit modern architecture, or regulate any specific architecture styles or materials. This was a very heavily debated point during the drafting of the amendment. Many longtime Tampa Heights residents have desired architectural standards similar to our Historic District for the area that lies outside of those boundaries. Others have not. We (Save Tampa Heights) believe that traditional architectural styles (Craftsman, Spanish Mission, American Foursquare, Victorian, Prairie, Queen Anne, Southern Vernacular, Art Deco, and similar styles from the 1880s - 1940s period) that Tampa Heights was originally comprised of best suit this neighborhood. At the very least, these styles should inspire and be incorporated into modern designs. We (Save Tampa Heights) do not dislike modern architecture. We just believe it does not belong in this neighborhood, it is better suited to other parts of Tampa. Until 2018, there was no precedent for it in Tampa Heights. Our historic neighborhoods are special, and Tampa Heights should rival the best historic central-city neighborhoods of Atlanta, Dallas, Savannah, Charleston, etc. in terms of architectural integrity. We have discussed this at length with many people and are happy to continue the discussion. There are valid points on both sides.
4. Save Tampa Heights was created to put pressure on developers and the City of Tampa. There was no intent to shame residents or create division; that is a regrettable side effect, and one that we have tried to prevent or make amends for. Some residents were particularly upset that photos or renderings of their homes were/are shown on the website or Facebook. The purpose is not to make anyone feel bad for the style or layout of their home. The purpose is to educate City Council, developers, and the public by illustrating real-world examples of an entirely physical issue - the urban design of real estate. We know that many of the residents had no hand in designing or building these homes - that is why we are targeting the development community. To those who have been offended and feel unwelcome: you are welcome in Tampa Heights. We value diversity in every measure, including diversity of thought. We want you to join the conversation. We know it must sting to believe some of your neighbors do not like the design of your house, but it's far more complex than "not liking" it. At hand is a long-running issue of how redevelopment occurs, which decades of neighborhood leaders and engaged residents have worked on. Whenever anyone moves into a neighborhood, whether it is historic, a deed-restricted subdivision, or an urban high rise, they move into the underlying issues that already exist there. Neighborhood issues are not cleanly delineated into periods, they are a woven continuum, and Tampa Heights' continuum is 140 years and counting. We are always willing to sit down with anyone to discuss our understanding of where TH came from, where it is now, and where it is going.