Three townhome projects, including a long-delayed development just a few blocks south of the Tropicana Field redevelopment site, will soon provide 64 homeownership opportunities in South St. Petersburg.
The city council unanimously approved an amended lease for the Shell Dash property at the Sept. 7 meeting. Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Paco Counties will take over as lead developer for the project at 1120 16th St. S.
The initial development firm, Exact Shell Dash, encountered several delays due to soaring construction costs and permitting issues. Mark Van Lue, St. Petersburg’s housing development manager, noted that changing market conditions also necessitated a significant price increase.
“The sale price of the homes goes from $219,000 to $279,000 as a max sales price,” Van Lue said. “I can assure you we did the math. And at that sale price, for 80% AMI (area median income) and below buyers, that does maintain the affordability of those homes – and maintains a proper debt-to-income ratio for the buyers …”
The amended agreement also includes a new timeline. Van Lue said Habitat must acquire necessary permits by Oct. 1 and commence construction by Feb. 1, 2024.
The public-private partnership’s stakeholders broke ground on the site in December 2022. At the ceremony, Councilmember Gina Driscoll expressed relief that the project was progressing after years of “ups and downs.”
However, weeds and brush now dominate the once-cleared property.
Mike Sutton, president of the local Habitat affiliate, said in a July interview discussing the project that “if affordable housing was easy, everyone would be doing it.”
“Unfortunately, a lot of affordable housing tends to take place in communities where the infrastructure is poor,” Sutton added. “When you go in there and put in a new development … it requires a lot of upgrades. It adds cost, and it’s not cheap.”
The city council approved its first lease agreement for the Shell Dash Townhomes in February 2021. The plan was to create nine affordable units and relocate the Historic Shell Dash Cottage from 856 2nd Ave N. to the city-owned property.
A partnership that included Preserve the ‘Burg and the cottage’s owner collapsed, and the council approved an amended lease in August 2021. That increased funding incentives by $72,000 to $458,000.
Mayer requested an additional $417,000 to cover rising construction costs in January 2022. City officials asked him to lower income restrictions from 120% of the AMI to 80% in return.
Mayer revisited City Hall in March 2022 to request another $617,000 to mitigate soaring inflation. That doubled the original city funding amount – not including the land – to $1.075 million.
Van Lue said the new agreement does not include funding changes at the Sept. 7 meeting. However, it does mandate that Habitat complete exterior wall construction by April 2024.
According to city documents, the organization must pay $1,000 in monthly rent for a 99-year term that commences Oct. 1. Council Chair Brandi Gabbard asked administrators to provide an update on the cottage’s status.
The council also approved selling a vacant, .55-acre city-owned parcel at 1805 18th Ave. S. to Habitat for $10. The Grove will also feature 10 townhomes in the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA).
Mayor Ken Welch selected the organization to develop the property in July 2022. While the motion passed without discussion, documents state that administrators negotiated the agreement “through multiple discussions.”
Habitat now has 60 days to perform site surveys and inspections. Construction must commence by Dec. 1, and the organization has until July 2026 to complete construction.
Habitat officials will owe the city $308,500 if they do not meet those terms. They must also pay $50,000 for every unit sold to homebuyers who earn over 80% of the AMI.
A restrictive covenant limits subsequent sales to 120% or below the AMI.
In August, council members approved a term agreement for a neighboring development, Pelican Place. That will feature 44 affordable townhomes on city-owned land at 2100 18th Ave. S
Welch selected Habitat to develop that 2.1-acre parcel alongside The Grove in July 2022. The site sits directly across from the much-maligned Tangerine Plaza.
In a Sept. 5 interview, Sutton said he expects to commence construction on Pelican Place by September 2025. That followed a letter to city officials regarding his hopes for Tangerine Plaza’s long-awaited redevelopment.
As with all its projects, Habitat will offer 30-year, 0% interest mortgages on the 64 townhomes. In addition to income restrictions, potential homebuyers must complete 350 to 450 sweat equity hours and take over 30 homeownership classes.