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Administrative judge issues order in dispute over affordable housing in west St. Pete

Margie Manning

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Grace Connection Church, 635 64th St. S. (Google maps)

A neighborhood group has fallen short in its legal challenge to an affordable housing project planned for west St. Petersburg.

PGSP Neighbors United Inc. had challenged a St. Petersburg City Council vote that paved the way for an apartment building for low-income seniors at 635 64th St. S., property currently occupied by Grace Connection Church in the Pasadena Bear Creek area.

In a March 3 recommended order, Hetal Desai, an administrative law judge in the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings, sided with the city and against PGSP. Desai said the Council action, approving an ordinance allowing the project to go forward, was in compliance with the city’s comprehensive code. The recommended order still needs final approval from the state.

Attorneys representing PGSP Neighbors did not respond to requests for comment on the ruling. The city declined to comment. A spokesman said Mayor Rick Kriseman had not yet been briefed on the decision.

“We commend the city on doing a superb job of defending their position and we again thank the city elected officials for their vote last year. We are proceeding with this development and we hope to start construction in 2022,” said Shawn Wilson, president of Blue Sky Communities, the Tampa development firm that plans to build the senior housing.

Long history

Kriseman’s administration has focused on housing that’s affordable for several years. The city earlier tried to buy the property, with plans to lease it to a developer for workforce and affordable housing, but neighborhood opposition kept that purchase from advancing.

 

More recently, Blue Sky Communities signed a contract to buy the 4.6 acre church property. The company plans to build a four-story apartment with 85 units for people age 55 and over, an attorney representing Blue Sky said during an August City Council meeting.

Dozens of neighborhood residents spoke against the development, saying it was not compatible with the character of the area and would damage property values. They also argued it would increase density in a flood-prone Coastal High Hazard area.

After a five-hour hearing, the City Council voted unanimously to approve a rezoning and several related ordinances.

PGSP, which has 118 members, filed a petition with the Division of Administrative Hearings a month later, asking an administrative judge to decide if the measures approved by the Council action were in compliance with the comprehensive plan.

An administrative hearing was held on Nov. 17.

“PGSP did not prove beyond fair debate that the Ordinance is not in compliance,” Desai wrote in her March 3 order.  She recommended the Department of Economic Opportunity enter a final order determining the amendment to the comprehensive plan was in compliance.

The planned affordable housing project also requires approval from Forward Pinellas, a county-wide planning organization.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Brad Banks

    March 9, 2021at7:39 pm

    The only way these issues will ever be decided completely fairly is to have the city personnel who have the power to make the decisions be put under oath and then asked if this was in their neighborhood , would they approve it.

  2. Avatar

    Chris

    March 9, 2021at10:57 pm

    Another victory for humanity and fairness in equitable housing. I guess the landed gentry will need to open up their hearts to the less fortunate.

  3. Avatar

    JW

    March 10, 2021at3:24 pm

    We still feel this is waaay out of character for our predominantly single family home neighborhood.

  4. Avatar

    Jim green

    March 10, 2021at7:15 pm

    City of st pete places a 4 story. 85 unit apartment on the farthest parcel of land bordered by 2 different municipalities. This area has no public transportation, no sidewalks, an overtaxed sewage system, and no multi family buildings within a half mile of the location.
    City of st pete doesn’t want low income housing so they push them onto the surrounding municipalities.
    What was once a great city that I have loved the past 20 years has been compromised severely by its lack of leadership.

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