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Community Voices: Neighborhood prevails over developer with connections

Residents For A Better Lealman

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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.

Residents for a Better Lealman website.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Karen Elizabeth

    June 18, 2021at3:42 pm

    Lealman needs the exact opposite of this project. Who on earth though this was a good idea?

  2. Avatar

    Jaclyn Swenningsen-Elshoff

    June 18, 2021at5:08 pm

    As i drove by the above mentioned property just today (and every day) I still cant believe what a mess to look at.
    Well, it looks like others felt the same way. Myself and family have lived in Lealman 70 years with well kept lovely homes. This is so disrespectful. Many years ago these ‘builders’ tried to push through a DUMP right where the lovely park is now…we marched to court twice and they finally gave up. Their thinking….”what do we know we are a poor, uneducated area, low income! Those that could help did. We won. Looks like this happened again! let’s play fair and ….DO THE RIGHT THING, no matter where you live! So many love our area and have been here before US19…in the 1950’s. You go CRA and count me in. Sincerely, Jaclyn Swenningsen-Elshoff

  3. Avatar

    David Lee

    June 18, 2021at7:59 pm

    Very proud of the community who came together and ended this nightmare. Citizens from every part of Lealman spoke up and demanded action.

    The effort was about stopping a really bad project. It was also about our basic right to have a voice in the future of the community we live in.

    The best ideas rarely come from Clearwater. They come from the people who live in the neighborhoods. Let’s keep the conversation going and work together to unlock the full potential of Lealman.

  4. Avatar

    Heather Rossi

    June 21, 2021at7:57 am

    Bravo to the community for winning this one!

  5. Avatar

    John Harrell

    June 21, 2021at4:05 pm

    Glad to see this project rejected. Our community needs affordable housing, but we already have enough mobile homes. Great to see the community coming together on this, let’s hope a new project is put forth that addresses the needs of the community.

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