Review Commission Rejects 'Dysfunctional' Julia Project

Date
July 8, 2022
Category

Residents and preservation advocates scored a victory Wednesday, as the Development Review Commission rejected by a unanimous 8-0 vote an effort by developers of "The Julia" to modify their plans for an 18-story condo tower slated for a .24-acre parcel on 4th Ave. N., directly adjacent to the historic Flor de Leon apartments.  

In voting against the modification of previously approved plans, commissioner Todd Reed said, "when you've taken this long, you've already lost the war," referring to the project's estimated 8th hearing and multiple lawsuits over five years to win approval. 

Commissioner Charles Flynt labeled the site "dysfunctional," while commissioner Matt Walker lamented his own previous support. "It's rare that you get to revisit something that you really regret," he said before joining with the other members to render a "no" vote.

Driven Ziggy's revised proposal, which was approved by the Community Redevelopment Agency on June 16 but rejected by the DRC on Wednesday, would switch the project from condominiums to apartments, adding 16 units from the original 20, and reconfigure the parking garage to include a carousel parking system, among other changes.

Flori resident and PTB advocacy chair Bill Herrmann was the Registered Opponent at the hearing, and reminded commissioners that the plans before them must be reviewed as a completely new project. "What worked four years ago might not work now," he said. 

The denial does not mean, however, that the project will not move forward. Developer Driven Ziggy could appeal the decision to City Council. Further, should the revised plans be denied, the project could still move forward as originally proposed, having won city approval in 2019.

Former City Council Member and newly appointed PTB board member Darden Rice also spoke at the hearing, reminding commissioners why she voted against the project during her time on Council. 

 Citing criterion 14 of the land use code, which requires the city to consider sensitivity to historic character when reviewing new projects, she told commissioners Wednesday, "it allows you to say, 'this just doesn't look right.'" Criterion 14 "allows common sense a seat at the table."

The effort to develop the .24 acre site dates back at least five years.

An early proposal included townhomes, while, later, the 21-story, 300-foot "Bezu" project was rejected by City Council and subsequently modified to 18 stories.

In 2018, PTB and nearby residents filed suit with the City of St. Petersburg, but lost that challenge, and the 18-story project was approved in 2019.

Had the DRC approved the project Wednesday, The Julia development would have been the first high rise tower approved west of 1st St. along 4th Avenue N., in a part of downtown still rich with historic buildings and a pedestrian-friendly scale typical of St. Petersburg’s historic development pattern.

At a Tiger Bay event back in 2019, PTB board member Peter Belmont stressed that new projects should consider “what we look like on the streetscape, how we mix the old and new, how we have the combination of new development and the best of our past.”

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