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Scaled-Down Condo Project Approved For Mirror Lake

April 10, 2024
"Lake House," at 200 Mirror Lake was reduced in scale following a denial last year. Image courtesy of St. Pete Rising.

 “Am I great with it? No. Can we live with it and not destroy Mirror Lake? Yeah.”

That’s how Development Review Commissioner Charles Flynt summed up the proposed 11-story condo at 200 Mirror Lake before the DRC voted unanimously for approval.

It was quite a turnaround for Lake House Condominiums, one that has tested the limits of new development in the Historic Mirror Lake neighborhood, highlighted the limitations of downtown zoning, and illustrated the value of grassroots advocacy and education, as well as open communication and dialogue between Preserve the ‘Burg and the development community.

Developer Hudson Harr originally proposed an 18 story  high rise tower including a massive five level parking garage for the site, clocking in at an alarming 7.0 floor area ratio. (floor area ratio or “FAR” as it is commonly referred to, is the measurement of a building’s floor area in relation to the size of the lot on which the building is located. The area of the building is divided by the total area of the parcel to calculate “FAR”. The "DC-2" zoning district that includes Mirror Lake has a "base" or "by right" FAR of 3, and developers can apply for bonuses to increase their FAR.)

When the project appeared before the DRC in January 2023, Preserve the Burg’s Advocacy Committee Co-Chair Bill Herrmann stood as the Registered Opponent, while residents weighed in, too. The DRC sided with the opposition, denying the project in a unanimous vote.

Denials issued by the DRC are rare. It was a similarly rare triumph for historic preservation and neighborhood advocates pressing to maintain the low and mid-rise historic character of Mirror Lake. 

“Most downtown observers would have a hard time remembering when staff last recommended "no" to a downtown development proposal,” said Preserve the ‘Burg board member Peter Belmont. “When staff recommends that the DRC approve a particular project, it should mean that it meets a variety of criteria such as building height and setback distances, as well as equally applicable "compatibility" standards. We often feel as though compatibility is overlooked or doesn't cary as much weight" said Belmont. "The difference between the mid-rise and high-rise versions of 200 Mirror Lake shows why applying the city's compatibility standards are so important to keeping our sense of place."

In his denial last year, commissioner Flynt said out loud what everyone was thinking when he remarked, “it's just too much for this street.”

“If we can build a compelling case based on the code of ordinances and not on emotion, we can be effective,” says Herrmann.

In the wake of strong opposition from the community and unanimous denial from the DRC Harr was forced to pivot. He reconnected with PTB at the end of 2023, sharing a dramatically scaled down version of the original project.

A five story parking deck with 131 spaces has been reduced to three level parking deck with 72 spaces. A 200-foot tower has been reduced to 125 feet. The City's minimum required set back for the tower of 10 feet was increased to 16 feet. Instead of a 7 FAR the project now clocks in at 4.3.

In all, the changes resulted in a roughly 40% reduction in massing according to a city staff report.

In a letter to the DRC and and in comments to the DRC, Preserve the Burg articulated a number of additional changes adopted by the DRC including active seismic monitoring to ensure neighboring historic properties are not adversely affected by construction, and light pollution study aimed at curbing headlights beaming into peoples' homes.

Another concession was a commitment to work with Preserve the ‘Burg and the city to create a trail of historic markers throughout Mirror Lake.

“It's tricky,” said preserve the burg executive director Manny Leto. “The existing city code in this part of the city allows for a building of more or less this height. We also understand that the approval may set a precident for the lakefront."

Bill Herrmann concurs: “Harr had done pretty much everything the DRC asked of him. Is it perfect? No. Do we think Mirror Lake should turn into a condo canyon? No. Can Preserve the 'Burg and local citizens push for a better project? Can they advocate for something better and win? Clearly, we can.”

August 1, 2023
Preserve the 'Burg Launches study on the economic impacts of historic preservation
Activist, preservationist, and PTB founding member Peter Belmont receives a key to the City of St. Petersburg.
August 19, 2022
Local preservation activist and Preserve the ‘Burg founding member Peter Belmont received a key to the City of St. Petersburg on Thursday, August 18, 2022 at St. Petersburg City Hall. The key to the City is the highest civilian honor and honors Belmont for his lifelong leadership and successful, decades-long resume of local historic and environmental preservation efforts.
A photo of Peter Belmont in action, leading a historic walking tour
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Peter Belmont has dedicated more than 40 years of his life to advocating for the preservation of St. Petersburg’s historic and natural resources. A tireless activist, his efforts have left a lasting imprint on the city. In this blog, we’ll share more about the man who founded Preserve the ‘Burg.