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Affordable housing, tenant rights in focus as St. Pete City Council gives go-ahead to new apartments

Margie Manning

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Rendering of planned 17th Street Apartments at 200 17th St. N. and 1711 2nd Ave. N.

A six-story, 74-unit apartment project at 17th Street and 2nd Avenue North will move forward, following a St. Petersburg City Council vote Thursday and a debate over housing in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Council, meeting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, found Zhukovskyi USA’s proposed 17th Street Apartments are consistent with the city’s Intown West Redevelopment Plan, a plan that capitalizes on the opportunities generated by Tropicana Field.

Approval came over the objections of several representatives of the St. Petersburg Tenants Union, who said residents of two existing properties at 200 17th St. N. and 1711 2nd Ave. N. faced eviction.

“Even in so-called normal times housing insecurity is a public health crisis, but in the midst of a deadly pandemic housing insecurity becomes a public health catastrophe,” said William Kilgore of the Tenants Union. “As a city we’ve got to stop prioritizing the profits of wealthy developers over the basic needs of low-income earners and working folks.”

Don Mastry, a Trenam attorney representing the developer, said the residents of the existing properties are on month-to-month leases and knew the properties were slated for demolition.

“This project has three tenants now. It’s going to have 74 tenants and all of the smaller units are going to rent at $800 a month. That’s less than the St. Pete Housing Authority prices for rent. I think we ought to be happy that we’re going to replace three units with 74 units and almost all of them are going to rent for $800 a month,” Mastry said. “Everyone says we need affordable housing. This is affordable housing.”

The planned development is the third project from Zhukovskyi for the area. In October, the council approved the Tampa company’s proposed apartments in the 1700 blocks of 1st Avenue North and 2nd Avenue North.

 

The 17th Street Apartments, valued at $3.5 million, will have 68 studio apartments and six one-bedroom apartments, as well as a fitness center and outdoor pool, according to a memo from the city’s development staff recommending approval. The project will have 12 parking spaces for cars, in keeping with zoning changes that relax parking requirements for smaller units, and also will have motorcycle and bicycle parking spots.

Council member Gina Driscoll, who voted against approval, raised several concerns about the project, including lack of consistency with the character of the neighborhood, which has several single-family homes.

“It’s not appropriate to have these large buildings next to these single family homes,” Driscoll said. “We are heading toward a serious parking issue in that area as well because of the parking requirements or lack thereof we have in that area. It’s something that now I’m having to talk with [Director of Transportation] Evan Mory about finding a solution for, as a result of the regulations that we have in place that are showing some unintended consequences.”

Council member Darden Rice voted for the plan, saying there is built-up market demand for these types of units.

“In a lot of ways, this project illustrates principles we’re been trying to work towards — to get more density, to achieve affordability by allowing construction of slightly smaller units, relaxed requirements for parking which allows developers to build more affordable apartments,” Rice said. “This area is where the BRT SunRunner will be, so it’s where I feel more comfortable allowing a building like this. In a year, when the SunRunner is running, not only will these tenants have an $800 a month apartment, but maybe they won’t have to have that $9,000 a year expense for a vehicle if they can get around by transit.”

Both Rice and Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders said they wanted the tenant activists to know they had been heard, and suggested follow-up.

“I would love to reach out to have this conversation because the issues they address are valid, but they are long-term and not something we could have acted on today,” Figgs-Sanders said.

The 17th Street Apartments still require final approval for building plans by the city’s CRA staff.

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