Tampa Mayor Candidates 2019: Harry Cohen
WUSF Public Media asked all seven candidates for Tampa Mayor to answer a questionnaire outlining their stands on some of the major issues facing the city.
The questions focused on critical issues including transportation, affordable housing, growth, the attraction of high-paying tech jobs. They also were asked about their visions.
Here are the replies from candidate and Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen:
What are your plans to ease transportation woes in Tampa?
My transportation plan has three parts: reducing congestion and improving streets, improving bicycle & pedestrian safety, and building a world-class public transit system that is accessible to every neighborhood.
Reduce congestion & improve streets: invest in an Advanced Traffic Management System to improve traffic flow at Tampa’s intersections and convert the entire existing transportation network into a smart city network, accelerate repaving projects & improve maintenance of streets, repair all reported potholes in a matter of days and invest in streetscape improvements, like benches, planters and flowerbeds.
Improve pedestrian & bicycle safety: Complete five miles of new sidewalks every year, prioritizing routes close to schools, add proven traffic-calming measures and over 90 additional flashing-beacon crosswalks citywide, install hundreds of miles of new sidewalks, and improve existing sidewalks. Complete the trail and bike lane system in the City’s Walk/Bike Plan. Build a multimodal bike/pedestrian trail connecting Port Tampa City to Downtown Tampa and Downtown Tampa to New Tampa.
Build a world-class public transit system for everyone: Secure rights to the CSX corridor for passenger rail through South Tampa, East Tampa, and North to New Tampa. Modernize the streetcar system and extend it into Tampa Heights, with future routes through Seminole Heights and West Tampa. Build a Downtown Central Station connecting Brightline, rail, the streetcar and bus service. Expand HART routes to cover the entire City of Tampa with a reliable bus service grid, upgrade existing transfer stations, and build multimodal hubs along fixed-route transit lines. Add small air-conditioned stations with BRT amenities and signal-priority along express routes. Encourage transit-oriented development so that housing, jobs, and retail shops are closer to transit stops.
Do you support using transportation taxes for expanding the existing trolley line in Ybor City and downtown?
Yes. I have supported this project since we started it in 2017. In addition to extending the line, we are going to replace the vintage trolleys with modern, air-conditioned, higher-capacity trams that have signal priority. The expansion to Tampa Heights is scheduled to be completed by 2024. I am also supportive of exploring extending this system into Seminole Heights and West Tampa.
Do you support starting up light rail; or bus rapid transit that brings commuters from Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas Counties?
Light rail (like the street car) does not have the capacity or speed that we would need to transport a significant number of commuters outside of the urban core. I support securing rights to the CSX tracks and running commuter rail throughout Hillsborough County. Ideally, Pasco and Pinellas Counties would join HIllsborough in making needed investments in transit and would want to connect to our system, but until they have a funding mechanism that may not be possible. I would support the concept of using a dedicated bus lane on I-275 for express service with very limited stops at our transit hubs in Hillsborough County (Downtown, Westshore, University Area, etc.), though I do not expect that this would provide local service given other viable options that are being considered, and it would not include its own stations.
What about the Tampa Bay Next plan to expand Interstate 275?
I oppose widening 275. I support improving the Westshore bottleneck and building anew, transit-friendly bridge connecting us to Pinellas County. I support hardening the existing shoulder to allow for transit.
2) Affordable housing
What is your plan to ease the affordable housing crunch in the city of Tampa?
Long-term Strategic Affordable Housing Plan: I will work our partners like Hillsborough County to develop a long-term, strategic plan for affordable and attainable housing that contains action items and measurable goals.
Put City-Owned Property Back on the Tax Rolls: My top priority for city-owned properties throughout Tampa is to turn them into affordable and attainable housing units for Tampa families who need it, expanding our city's tax base.
Density Bonus Incentives: Currently, Tampa provides developers with density bonuses for meeting a range of criteria. As Mayor, I will make density bonuses contingent on adding affordable units and public green space only.
Utilize Every Housing Type: Innovative solutions like tiny homes and container homes, as well as "in-law suites," co-ops, condominiums, and apartments all need to be considered to provide housing options.
Neighborhood-Centric, Incremental Development: I will promote training and technical support for individuals and organizations who want to become small-scale developers in their own neighborhoods.
Preserving Historic Neighborhoods: Every Tampa neighborhood is unique. I will ensure that the integrity of our historic neighborhoods is respected by development that maintains the character of the surrounding structures.
Integrate Transportation and Land Use Planning: Housing is more affordable when people are not burdened to spend considerable portions of their income just to commute. As Mayor, I will keep working hard to make sure Tampa residents can live affordably near where they work.
Transit-Oriented Development Corridors: We need to take a holistic approach to development in transit-oriented development corridors to increase density, walkability, and livability while reducing issues related to parking.
Create an Office of Transit-Oriented Development: A priority for me will be the active recruitment of mixed-use redevelopment along transit corridors, encouraging housing, jobs, and retail closer to transit stops, improving the quality of life for residents.
Greener and Smarter Zoning: I believe in choosing density and efficiency over sprawl, investing in transit in urban neighborhoods, and promoting green space and resiliency in our land use code.
Prevent Displacement: I recognize that transit can accelerate gentrification, and will mitigate displacement by increasing the supply of affordable housing in neighborhoods where new transit corridors would have a disproportionate impact.
Promote Attainable Homeownership: The City of Tampa and Hillsborough County have underutilized programs for downpayment and home repair assistance, as well as classes on what a person needs to know to become and stay a homeowner. I will work with local organizations to expand attainable homeownership in Tampa.
Do your plans include using city-owned land to lease to private developers?
I would prefer putting city-owned land back on the tax rolls in a way that expands affordable and accessible housing opportunities. We do not have the resources to maintain our current portfolio of land well.
Will you push to build more public housing?
What about requiring a percentage of new privately-built apartments to be subsidized at below-market rates for those who qualify?
I support using bonus density incentives versus requiring a percentage of below-market housing. In other cities, new housing has slowed to a crawl following the implementation of requirements, and this has increased rents.
3) The innovation economy
What can Tampa do to attract higher-paying jobs in the technology, start-up and other cutting-edge industries?
One of the issues that we have in Tampa is that there are many higher-paying jobs in skilled sectors that remain unfilled because we do not have enough qualified workers. We need to rethink economic development in general, invest in workforce training, and build new industries that complement our needs including affordable housing and resiliency. To attract new companies- especially those that are relocating workers- we need to have a world-class transit system and invest in great public schools.
Should Tampa use city dollars to attract outside businesses, like what the statewide economic development agency Enterprise Florida is doing?
4) Managing growth
Do you support changes to zoning, allowing for higher density housing, or allowing taller buildings in established neighborhoods?
It depends on where these neighborhoods are located in proximity to transit. We are currently zoned for mixed-use density, with allowable density bonuses, along many growth corridors. Several neighborhoods have expressed interest in joining Seminole Heights to allow accessory dwelling units.
How do you balance the need to grow with the desires of existing residents?
The key is to integrate transportation and land use planning to ensure that density along growth corridors does not increase traffic or parking issues, and to make these areas walkable.
5) Big picture
What is your grand vision for the future of Tampa, such as the recent developments along the Hillsborough River in downtown?
Since I took office in 2011, Tampa has seen billions of dollars in new investment in mixed-use development throughout the city and is watching as its Downtown skyline is transformed with the addition of thousands of new residential units, class-A office space, and hotels. We are also seeing new investments in Westshore, Midtown, Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights, and in the University Area. I am proud to have played an important role in making this happen.
When I think about the future, and especially the next Mayor’s term(s) in office, I expect that we will lay the groundwork for a world-class, citywide transit system. We will jumpstart redevelopment along transit corridors and start to see more opportunities to live and work outside of the Downtown area. We will see investments in walkable urban villages and neighborhood parks. And we will start tackling tough issues like affordable housing and climate change resiliency.
What would you like to see here, if you could make it happen?
I would like to see a city in which all of our residents are able to share in its prosperity, in which all residents feel optimistic about Tampa’s future, and in which residents feel that our growth is well-managed and sustainable.