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Affordable housing plan features an historic St. Petersburg home

Margie Manning

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The Shell Dash Cottage, currently at 856 2nd Ave. N., would be relocated to a new affordable housing development on 16th Street South.

Two developers noted for their historic preservation work are proposing an affordable housing project in St. Petersburg with a local landmark as its centerpiece.

Exact Architects wants to work with Preserve the ‘Burg and the city of St. Petersburg to develop new, for-sale housing on vacant land owned by the city at 1120 16th St. S. The project would feature the Shell Dash Cottage, an historic example of workforce housing in the city and one of the last remaining examples of the “shell dash” construction technique unique to Florida.

The cottage would be relocated from its current site, at 856 2nd Ave. N., to the 16th Street South location, and would be one of nine residences in the proposed project. The others would be newly built townhomes. They would be sold to low to moderate income residents (see project details below).

The city has issued a legal notice seeking alternative proposals from other developers for the site, as it is required to do. Alternative proposals are due by 10 a.m. Sept. 9.

The Exact proposal comes from Bob Mayer, president of M R Capital Advisors and Exact Partners, and Caleb Buland, a partner with Exact Architects. They are based in Kansas City and have done several projects in the Kansas City area, including converting historic buildings to viable multifamily affordable housing, said Mayer, who is a part-time resident of St. Pete Beach.

Monica Kile, executive director of Preserve the ‘Burg, met Mayer when he was speaking to the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership in early February, around the time Preserve the ‘Burg was awarded a $75,000 grant from the 1772 Foundation. That grant, matched by $75,000 from the city of St. Petersburg, is seed funding for a revolving fund used to purchase, restore and resell historic housing. The Shell Dash Cottage, which was donated to Preserve the ‘Burg by attorney and former City Council member Jim Kennedy, would be the first project, Kile said.


Related story: Preserve the ‘Burg receives $150,000 to kickstart new preservation fund


Mayer was intrigued when Kile described the fund and said he and Buland starting talking about ways to get involved; those talks culminated in an agreement between Exact Development and Preserve the ‘Burg to move the Shell Dash Cottage to the 16th Street location.

“We’ve been in dialogue with city staff for several months about doing affordable housing on this tract, which would be new construction. Currently we’re talking about doing three-bedroom, two-bath, small townhomes that would be about 1,100 square feet and would help provide affordable housing within that area of the city,” Mayer said.

The project is especially timely, given the Covid-19 pandemic and more people working from their homes.

“Our urban cores are looking at live/work places for architects, artists, medical people, yoga instructors, you name it. While this is a residential proposal, it could be easily adapted as a live/work situation – particularly with the Shell Dash building, which was for many years used as a commercial space by a lawyer,” Mayer said.

The project is far from a done deal, Mayer said. Apart from potential competing proposals, it still has to be reviewed by city staff and Exact plans to hold community meetings to get input.

“I have had a conversation with the president of the Campbell Park Neighborhood Association and we committed to meet with them. We’re community based developers. We don’t want to say here’s our design, this is it, we’re going to do it this way. We want to make sure it integrates into that area, because it’s a very diverse neighborhood. We want to be cognizant of the neighborhood and the types of homes. It was an area that’s important to the Black community and the Shell Dash would be an additional way to preserve that history,” Mayer said.

The proximity to a redeveloped Tropicana Field site, where Mayor Rick Kriseman and the City Council are calling for affordable housing, also is key.

“We want to be part of that solution,” Mayer said.

 

First priority: Preserve the building

The Shell Dash Cottage was built in about 1909, Kile said.

Monica Kile

 It was one of the first houses built in the Lake View subdivision on Mirror Lake by developer Perry Snell and his partner, J.C. Hamlett. What makes it really special is the exterior surface, a combination of stucco and sea shells, said Kile, who has done an extensive study of the residents of the cottage.

“For the first 40 years of its existence, the Shell Dash Cottage was home to a revolving door of hard working St. Pete citizens,” a description on the Preserve the ‘Burg website says. “Its first resident was a police sergeant, followed by a series of shopkeepers, undertakers, concrete workers, grocers and realtors.”

While Kennedy used the Cottage for his law office, Kile said she would like to see it used once again as a home.

“There have been multiple generations of families there. It’s really cool to imagine their lives in this house, and it’s exciting to me as an historian to imagine more lives in this house,” Kile said.

While she would have preferred the cottage remain at its current site, there weren’t any feasible options allowing that. “The first priority was to save the building and this proved to be the best of the options we had,” she said.

The relocated house would be protected, likely through a façade easement barring any future owner from changing the façade, Kile said.

The home is small, about 500 square feet, and Exact plans to add on to the back, to make it a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home, Mayer said.

Project details

The project has a total budget of $2.3 million, according to Exact’s proposal to the city.

Exact has talked with several local banks, as well as companies it previously worked with, about financing for the project. The company’s proposal filed with the city includes letters from Bank OZK and from Oak Star Bank supporting the project.

Exact’s newly built townhomes would sell for less than $239,000 with no down payment and a mortgage of under $1,200 a month, as well as $40 a month in HOA fees and $65 a month in insurance, according to a proposal to the city by Exact.

The homes initially would be made available to applicants making less than 80 percent of the area median income; should not enough applicants apply, Exact will set up a wait list of applicants making up to 120 percent of the area median income, or civil servants, military, medical workers and education personnel with a household income under 140 percent of the area median income. If the homes don’t sell in 180 days, Exact may rent the homes to households whose income is less than 120 percent of the average median income until a purchaser makes a credible offer.

To provide housing at below-market rates, Exact is asking the city to waive some fees and costs, including those for utility lines, sidewalks, engineering, parking, grading and streets. Exact is asking the city to reimburse the cost of this work up to $300,000 to keep the homes affordable, the proposal said.

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