“Beautiful building, wrong place,” is how DRC Commissioner Charles Flynt summarized the application for the Lake House Condominiums before voting against the project following several hours of public comment and presentations from the developer’s legal team and Registered Opponent, Preserve the ‘Burg.
According to the City’s staff report, plans for the high-rise located at 200 Mirror Lake called for the construction of an 18-story residential tower atop a 57-foot parking pedestal for a total height of 200 feet.
Base zoning for Mirror Lake includes a maximum height of 125 feet and a “floor area ratio” or “FAR” – the amount of square footage of a project vs. the available land area – of 5. The developer was seeking bonuses to achieve a FAR of 7.
As a comparison, a structure with a FAR of 5 would have a tower of around 100 feet with a smaller podium.
During the DRC’s executive session, commissioner Flynt noted that the extra height and massing requested by any developer “[is] a bonus, not a right.”
Commissioners also zeroed in on the St. Petersburg Downtown National Register Historic District, of which Mirror Lake is a part. The “Lake House” tower, meanwhile, would have demolished actual houses on the lake, three of which are listed as “contributing structures” to the Downtown National Historic District.
Emily Elwyn, a Preserve the ‘Burg board member and a professional historic preservationist, reminded commissioners during her public comments that structures within National Historic Districts are considered individual landmarks.
“If a property is listed on the National Register as contributing to a district, it is considered listed in the National Register,” said Elwyn. “In fact, redundant listings are discouraged.”
Neighbors from Lake Palms, a cooperative residential building located next door to the site of the proposed tower, turned out in force to oppose the project. Speakers expressed concerns about maintaining the low-rise character of Mirror Lake, citing the city’s own land development regulations (LDRs) and the “Vision 2050” plan.
“Allowing a 200-foot structure on the shore of Mirror Lake does not reinforce the character of the existing neighborhood; it permanently changes it,” said Lake Palms resident Susan Thomas.
Bill Herrmann, Preserve the ‘Burg’s advocacy committee co-chair standing as the Registered Opponent, used Google Earth and renderings of the proposed building to demonstrate the scale of the project.
“In a city where we can go to the Dali Museum and walk through a painting, we should be able to use the same virtual reality technology to see what new developments will look like,” he said, before sharing several renderings of the condo tower looming over the other buildings currently surrounding Mirror Lake.
As commissioners deliberated, they expressed concerns that Mirror Lake would devolve into a “Condo Canyon,” with Commissioner Flynt lamenting, “It’s just too much for this street.”
“[St. Pete] is on the precipice of deciding what kind of city we want to be,” added Commissioner Matt Walker. “Do we want to be more like Charleston or more like New York or Fort Lauderdale,” he asked rhetorically before joining his colleagues to vote “no.”