Goal: To get Tampa City Council to pass the Privately Initiated Text Amendment (PITA) that the Tampa Heights Civic Association submitted in July 2021.
Mechanism: A "PITA" is a legislative change to city code proposed by private individuals or organizations. It is similar to a ballot initiative, except that it is not passed by popular vote, but by City Council vote. Why this method? It exists to allow citizens to propose regulations when council fails to take action and write the legislation themselves.
Purpose: this PITA is a stopgap measure to curb some of the most frequent development practices that are out of character with Tampa Heights' urban structure. This PITA only covers residentially zoned properties, not commercial ones. This stopgap is needed because of the rapid pace of residential development. Commercial development is lagging behind, so there is more time to put appropriate regulations in place. But the commercial regulation is overdue, too.
Steps: We are asking the City to 1) pass this PITA, 2) fund the updating of Tampa Heights' 2003 Neighborhood Plan, and 3) fund the creation of a comprehensive zoning overlay that governs all residential and commercial development throughout the neighborhood.
Site Planning Practices: The city Comprehensive Plan recognizes a few historic neighborhoods such as Tampa Heights that were built pre-WW2: "This period represents a time when many people walked, bicycled, or took the streetcar to work and other destinations. It features an interconnected, grid-style street network designed to maximize the efficiency of these transportation modes. Land uses were mixed, minimizing travel time between home, work and shopping. Homes and other buildings were oriented near the sidewalks, with parking relegated to the back of the property. This pattern can be seen in historic neighborhoods around downtown Tampa: Hyde Park, Beach Park, Ybor City, Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights, Palmetto Beach, West Tampa and Virginia Park." That style of urban design has come full circle as people flock to the inner cities for walkable and transit-friendly living experiences.
Our PITA attempts to correct a variety of issues, but the primary goal is to improve site layout issues that have deteriorated the historic pattern quoted above. We are experiencing what the City of Tampa Planning Department itself has called "driveway proliferation". Tampa Heights has a widespread (although not universal) network of connected back and side alleys. The City deserves some blame for failing to maintain them and allowing many of these alleys to be ignored by builders between the 1950s and today. Tampa Heights should be this city's most walkable neighborhood, but our zoning code is written to support car-centric design more appropriate to areas like Carrollwood or New Tampa. As many of our vacant lots are built upon and undervalued post-WW2 homes are replaced, they need to be replaced with buildings that restore the integrity of our historic urban layout.
Why can driveways be bad?: The PITA does not seek to prohibit front yard driveways altogether, but to discourage them and minimize the ones that must exist. Excessively numerous or wide driveways can do the following things:
1) Driveways cause the removal of additional shade trees, or limit the space to plant new ones, which are essential elements to creating a pleasant sidewalk experience in hot, sunny Florida. Driveways likewise prohibit additional greenspace in front yards.
2) Driveways eliminate valuable on-street parking spaces. These are necessary for residents, their guests, and customers of nearby businesses. Having cars parked on-street also causes drivers to slow down, making our streets safer. It also gives townhome/multifamily developers the opportunity to remove guest spaces from their site plan and shift them to the street, allowing more green space on the property.
3) Driveways create excessive sidewalk interruptions where pedestrians have to look out for crossing cars, or walk into the street to avoid cars parked over the sidewalk.
4) Front-of-building garages (and the associated driveways) restrict the opportunity to design usable front porches. "Usable" means they are wide and deep enough to hold a few chairs or tables and be used as a gathering place. Front porches encourage people to gather in public view and engage with their adjacent neighbors or people walking down the street. Porches foster community building through an architectural element.
What else does the PITA try to do?:
1) It blocks developers from getting waivers for sidewalk construction. If a new home is being built, current City code allows developers to pay a fee into the City sidewalk fund instead of building one. This is a major problem, because as the neighborhood redevelops, we lose opportunities to connect our sidewalks. And the City doesn't have money to come build them themselves.
2) It incentivizes the construction of front porches by allowing them to project further into the front setback. That is traditional for the neighborhood, but currently, if you want to do it, you need a Design Exception or Variance to locate your front porch evenly with the historic home next door to you.
3) It allows Accessory Dwelling Units (granny flats) by right, i.e. no Design Exception, Variance, or Rezoning would be required. ADUs are historically appropriate for single family homes and are useful for guests, family members, or as small rental units. This is additional housing stock that helps keep Tampa Heights affordable.