Dispatches from the Sunshine State, Wanderlust

St. Petersburg OKs community gardens; related: benefit at Shuffleboard courts

It’s another great day — for community gardens — in St. Petersburg: The St. Pete City Council approved zoning for community gardens in the city, provided a few conditions are met. A great step for the city, environmentalists and especially those intrepid gardeners in Bartlett Park. (Of course, I prefer my community gardens to be guerrilla affairs, but that’s another blog post.)

So, to celebrate, the group behind the veggie liberation front (Green Florida) is holding a fundraiser at the Shuffleboard courts tonight. Catch all the info here.

(In case you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, here’s a link to the first article ever on the Bartlett Park community garden. Let’s just say I know a good thing when I see it.)

Behind the News, Dispatches from the Sunshine State

City leaders destroy Central Avenue, now complain about it

600 central

Oh, how St. Petersburg’s city leaders love to ignore history.

I read with interest yesterday’s St. Petersburg Times article on the 600 block of Central Avenue. Basically, city leaders are scrambling over themselves about the sorry state this block is in.

A little memory refresher: This block is the one in downtown St. Pete that has all the vacancies and “No Loitering” spray-painted on the storefront glass. It’s become a haven for some downtown street people, graffiti taggers and hipsters in various states of inebriation after a visit to the Emerald.

So what’s our fair city to do? Well, they want to “revitalize” the block. But they don’t mention that back before 2006, this block was already thriving with unique local small businesses.

There were bohemian joints like the Surreal Bowl and eccentric boutique shops like Woodies Hat Box, all centered around one of the city’s historical treasures, Crislip Arcade.

That is, before another developer — Gerald R. Pacella of 601 Central Ave LLC — came in, bought that part of the block and evicted all the shops to construct a bunch of condos. Condos that never saw the light of day. Another developer, Thomas Gaffney of Oldsmar Land Holding Group, bought the property in 2008. His intentions are not yet known, but some Google sleuthing shows his company likes to hold on to property and then sell it to the highest bidder. He’s already mentioned to the Times that he has no plans to refurbish the storefronts.

While preservationists are calling for, well, preservation and some cultural leaders want, well, cultural space, City Councilmember Leslie Curran is lobbying for art galleries, because you know, she owns one. But she cares a lot about the arts, too, as evidenced by her push for the firing of former city’s cultural affairs manager Ann Wykell.

Oh, and this is the same Leslie Curran who voted for the previous developer’s condo wet dream back in 2006 along with the rest of the City Council at the time. Other city officials and downtown leaders backed that sale, too:

“It’s an evolutionary kind of thing,’’ said Don Shea, director of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership. “The uses that evolved in that block in the last few years are not the highest and best.’’

Now, after selling part of Central Avenue’s soul to developers, city officials are once again throwing money at a problem they created:

Last week, the city began removing old benches and pruning trees on the street. In coming weeks, benches with bumps that deter sleeping will be added, along with better lighting. Sidewalks will be cleaned and parking spaces restriped.

This focus on the 600 block of Central is also part of the city’s efforts to “bridge” the different districts of downtown. Curran is leading a workshop this summer on that. Neighborhoods should tell Curran they don’t need any more of her “help,” lest the rest of St. Pete end up like 600 Central Avenue or, perhaps worse, Baywalk.

As for the problem of homeless and graffiti taggers? Just send them on over to the offices of 601 Central LLC and tell those developers to deal with the mess.

(Photo Credit: unprose/Flickr)

Behind the News, Dispatches from the Sunshine State

Why does St. Pete continue to disparage the homeless without working toward solutions?

3419380851_f0eba9e893_oI love the daily paper. In no other publication can you read one article full of facts, shedding light on some problem and then read a columnist in the next section completely unaware of said facts and making uneducated statements. I bring this up, because I just finished my Sunday edition of the St. Petersburg Times.

In the Metro section, one reporter details the results of the 2009 Pinellas County homeless count. The statistics are  not surprising:

There’s been a 20 percent jump in homeless folks over 2007’s count. Despite the best efforts of Pinellas Hope, the number of homeless without any kind of shelter is up nearly 83 percent. And children make up nearly a third of those without homes.

Then I hop on over to the Perspectives section for Bill Maxwell’s column. His headline?

“Homeless Disrupting Our Lives.”

Behind the News

St. Petersburg Housing Authority blocks requests to locate evicted Graham-Rogall residents

grahamrogallcomplexYou remember the evicted residents of the Graham-Rogall public housing complex, right?

No? Maybe that’s because the St. Petersburg Housing Authority wants you to forget.

Last year, the SPHA began evicting the (mostly) elderly residents to make way for a developer’s upscale condo project. At the time, SPHA officials said the Graham-Rogall apartments were too expensive to fix and the sale of the building would allow them to build more affordable housing elsewhere in the city.

Turns out, the property is now worth less than the $10 million originally proposed by the developer, KEGB, and the project may never get off the ground.

Nonetheless, the SPHA is moving ahead with relocating the residents of Graham-Rogall. Based on news reports, about 130 remain. Where are the displaced elderly and disabled going? Well, that’s anyone’s guess.

So, the one group who has not forgotten about the Graham-Rogall residents —the Committee to Save Graham-Rogall — filed a public records request for the names and new addresses of the evicted persons. The SPHA gave them an incomplete list months ago and, to date, have not provided them with a full accounting. Now they plan to find a lawyer to enforce the request.

Interestingly, I filed a similar public records request for a public housing complex in Tampa. The Tampa Housing Authority complied. And, actually, I found most relocated residents very happy with their new digs.

So what is the St. Petersburg Housing Authority hiding?

The Unemployed Life

Florida, St. Petersburg unveil stimulus websites

criststimulusBarack Obama’s most ardent Republican supporter, Florida’s Charlie Crist, finally released a website detailing where federal stimulus funds will go. Florida is not the first state,  nor the last. There’s isn’t much on the site now except for some photos, FAQ and various letters from the Guv. But once the federal funds pour in, this site could get real interesting. Check it out here.

Following his hometown governing friend, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker announced a similar website for the city. Though there isn’t much information on there now about how much St. Pete will get, it does detail the grants available. Check it out here.

So how does this help you? Once you see where the funds are going, you can track where the jobs will be created.

Behind the News

Bartlett Park community garden spurs City Council into ‘garden zoning’

commgardenartIf you haven’t had a chance to drive by the Bartlett Park Community Garden in St. Pete, I’d urge you to stop and smell the cabbage. The year-long effort has already paid off with a bountiful harvest of vegetables and fruits, as well as promoting some goodwill and friendship in a tough neighborhood.

But beyond the food and fellowship, the Bartlett Park Community Garden is paving, er, clearing the way for other community gardens to follow in its footsteps.

When I wrote about the community garden last year, I mentioned that St. Petersburg land use codes prohibit a nonprofit from operating in a residential area. And though many cities offer exemptions for community gardens, St. Pete does not. Undeterred, the folks at Green Florida worked with the city to gain a temporary use permit for the site. But they also circulated a petition and reached out to elected officials to change the law.

Now that hard work is paying off. District 6 City Councilmember Karl Nurse recently directed city officials to draft new land use regulations that would permit community garden. So far, preliminary rules would require interested citizens to apply for a permit and have at least a majority of neighbors on board with the plan. This is a good example of — oh, I have to say it — grassroots activism. Ha! Although, I must admit, the rules seem a little bureaucratic to me.

Personally, I’ve always loved guerilla gardening.