Attorney Don Mastry is the public face of many real estate projects in the St. Petersburg City Council and other local government hearings.
Mastry, a shareholder in the Trenam law firm’s St. Petersburg office, represents developers and landowners in zoning and approving hearings. But he started his career as a tax attorney and happened to become a land use attorney.
“One day one of my partners couldn’t hold a hearing and asked me to go there,” Mastry said. “I never intended to become a land use attorney.”
For the past 56 years, Mastry has taken on high profile and often controversial cases. Among his numerous cases, he represented Cats Red Apple St. Pete LLC in 2019 when it received approval for a 45-story apartment building, hotel, and office at 400 Central Downtown. He also represented the Blue Sky Communities and Grace Connection Church last year when the St. Petersburg City Council approved a plan that paves the way for affordable housing development in the Pasadena Bear Creek area. A legal challenge has put this project on hold.
Some of the projects he represented received harsh critics.
“Sometimes they are not popular with people, but generally they are consistent with the property rights of the landowner and the developer. If I think the customer has a valid right and is entitled to what he asks, I will represent him. If I don’t agree with them, I won’t represent them, ”said Mastry. “You may not like it, but if it is a legal use and there are no deviations, the owner should be allowed to develop it according to the Code and Regulations … There is almost always someone who disagrees. Just because they’re against it doesn’t mean it’s not valid. “
“City is better off”
In recent years there has been controversy over almost all workforce housing and affordable housing projects, but controversy over real estate use is not new in St. Petersburg, Mastry said.
“I remember the 70’s and 80’s when so many people were in hiring with no growth. We had problems getting single family homes approved. I have represented a number of single family home developments and all of them have been difficult. “
Housing estates such as Isla Del Sol on the southern tip of the city, Riviera Bay in the far northeast of St. Pete, and Placido Bayou on 47th Avenue in northeast St. Pete faced resistance built at the time, Mastry said. “We left that behind and I think the city is better off for the development that has taken place.”
However, if it could go back several decades, it would have suggested changes in the residential development.
“I regret that we used so much land for retirement homes and retirees in the 1950s and 1960s. It was built single-family homes at approximately four units per acre. We didn’t understand that one day there would be a shortage of land and a need to provide housing, ”said Mastry. “Today you can build much more efficient houses on the same amount of land that are very beautiful and probably as big as the houses that were built or bigger, but we didn’t get it then.”
St. Petersburg real estate is booming now, but it goes through cycles, said Mastry, who was born and raised in the city.
“I think most of the development over the past 25 or 30 years has been good for the city. And I take no notice of it. I owe all of this to my customers, ”he said.
There are currently two or three luxury housing projects in the works, but he anticipates the number of these developments will decrease in the future.
“I think development will continue to move west. I think units will be smaller and cheaper whether they are rented out or bought, ”said Mastry. “There still seems to be a lot of demand for housing in St. Petersburg and we run out of land so most of it will be in redeveloped sites. There is also currently a demand for industrial space and we will see some warehouses. “
Changes in the high-risk coastal area that allow additional development with stricter building requirements in lower-lying areas are positive for the city, Mastry said. Additionally, the proposed redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site will have as big an impact on the city as the Carillon Office Park, a residential, office and retail project he worked on a few years ago.
“The trop could be something like that,” said Mastry. “You will see mixed use, hotels, retail, recreation, parks. I assume the city will expect affordable housing to be part of it, mixed in with the other housing that will go there. “
Mastry grew up in the Crescent Lake area before it was developed as a park. He has lived in Riviera Bay for 40 years.
At 80, he still works four days a week. He takes most Fridays off and spends many weekends fishing in Boca Grande, even though he has given up his previous hobby of performance sailing.
Overall, St. Petersburg has a bright future, he said.
“We are blessed with great geography. Our waterfront is fantastic. Downtown is fantastic. The developers see a lot of opportunities here and based on other areas the developers are from, our country is inexpensive compared to other places and I think that has been a real asset for us, ”said Mastry. “Those of us here don’t think it’s cheap, but those from out of state or from Southeast Florida, Miami, or Fort Lauderdale think it’s a bargain compared to where we’re used to … Sometimes the towers are forced to show us what can be done. “