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This story was written collaboratively by members of the Residents For a Better Lealman organization.
In an against-all-odds reversal, the Oasis Acres project is dead. It would have been the first mobile home park project in Pinellas County funded with taxpayer dollars.
On June 2nd, the Pinellas County Board of Adjustment and Appeals voted 7-0 to revoke all approvals and special exceptions for the Oasis Acres project located in the Lealman Community Redevelopment Area (CRA). The move follows the developer withdrawing from the project after facing mounting pressure from residents and a lawsuit in Circuit Court.
Contemporary Housing Alternatives of Florida (CHAF) previously received unanimous approval for an unusual number of exceptions along with a density bonus enabled by a loophole in the Pinellas County code. The loophole was inserted in 2017 and only applies to the Lealman CRA.
The community was befuddled to learn the questionable project was conceived behind closed doors with the blessing of Pinellas County. A move that occurred without public input.
Residents rightfully questioned the neutrality of the process, given one of the developer’s principals was the son of the Pinellas County official in charge of building, development review services, and housing & community development. Monetary concerns also surfaced regarding the enormous taxpayer subsidy per unit, a common theme with CHAF developments.
In early 2020, anger boiled over when CHAF Properties began clearing the site and installing utilities without permits. The activity generated a stop-work order months later, but fines or citations were never issued.
Had the project succeeded, it would have marked a new low for development standards in Florida’s most densely populated county. Features of the proposed “Oasis” included no amenities, no storm shelter, no sidewalks, no visual screening buffers, limited landscaping, grass parking spaces, and zero lot lines on all sides. Items the community argued were inconsistent with the land development code and Lealman’s own CRA plan.
With the project now scuttled, county officials have shifted to listening mode. They have already committed to meaningful public engagement on future affordable housing projects. Additionally, the Housing and Community Development department, now under new leadership, announced that all future AHD projects will be scored on a new metric – taxpayer subsidy per unit. This new policy will supercharge the affordable housing program countywide, helping to ensure taxpayers receive the best value in exchange for subsidizing developers.
The County has regained control of the property and positive signs are beginning to emerge. Long overdue maintenance is underway. The rogue utilities will soon be demolished. The community understands at some point the land will be developed. The hope is this time around the bar is set higher and the end result is a project we can all be proud of.
The Lealman community redevelopment area is located right in the middle of North St. Petersburg near I-275. The CRA is anchored by Neri Park, a lush 34-acre hidden park filled with wildlife and 152 documented bird species. The park is intersected by Joe’s Creek and features a large lagoon.
The Lealman CRA is governed by Pinellas County and is guided by LCRAAC, a committee of residents and stakeholders who report directly to the Board of County Commissioners.