Connect with us


Vacant church land could soon become affordable housing

Mark Parker



Vacant land at the Palm Lake Christian Church could soon house 72 people with physical disabilities and provide 14 affordable cottages. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

Officials with St. Petersburg’s Palm Lake Christian Church hope to set a new trend by transforming long-vacant institutionally-zoned land into much-needed housing.

The church’s governing board recently filed a site plan with the city that calls for a three-story residential building with 72 beds for people with disabilities. They also hope to build 14 cottages surrounding a community garden.

Andrea Cate, board chair at Palm Lake Christian Church (PLCC), said its leadership wanted to provide a community benefit with their underutilized land for years. However, zoning regulations and a lack of subject expertise impeded that goal.

“And then when House Bill 1339 passed, the city let me know about that,” said Cate. “They kept me in the loop of what was happening, and then I kept researching from there.”

The Florida Legislature passed the bill in 2020, which allows municipalities to expedite residential developments that meet the state’s definition of affordable in otherwise prohibited zoning districts. In September 2021, the City of St. Petersburg became the state’s first municipality to codify the process with additional criteria.

That includes a minimum of five acres and 60 units; a location within two miles of a public or vocational school, one mile of a grocery store and the Pinellas Trial or a city park and a quarter-mile of a PSTA bus line; and a maximum rent or sale price at 120% or below the area median income (AMI), with a 30-year minimum affordability period.

Cate believes the plans check all of those boxes.

“We’ve done our due diligence on addressing any of their (city staff) concerns or questions,” she said. “It seems this city council is very pro-affordable housing, so I’m pretty optimistic it will go through.”

PLCC will become a local housing pioneer if the council approves the initiative at a March 2 meeting.

The north end of the property at 5401 22nd Ave. N. in west St. Petersburg.

Council members approved transforming an industrial-zoned lumberyard into 264 affordable apartments in April 2022. City officials subsequently won state housing awards for their efforts.

However, the Fairfield Avenue Apartments is still the only development to gain approval under the new process, and the project has yet to break ground. Palm Lake Christian Church, located at 5401 22nd Ave. N., would be the first faith-based organization to take advantage of HB 1339.

As a local educator, Cate realizes the importance of creating a model for others to follow.

“If I were graduating right now, as a first-year teacher, I would be struggling to find safe, affordable housing for myself without a roommate or having a second job,” she said. “So, I hope that it does start a process of other people looking at their land or their resources and say, ‘hey, this is a crisis, and I can be part of the solution.'”

Uplifting the community runs in the family.

Her father, the late Rev. J.W. Cate Jr., served on the city council from 1971-1991. He also chaired the St. Petersburg Housing Authority and pastored the Palm Lake church for 33 years. Following his death in 2004, city officials renamed the Northwest Recreation Center in his honor.

Andrea Cate said it was always her father’s dream to provide housing in the area. She relayed that “he was always a huge advocate of the church needing to be relevant in the community.”

“And that the church’s purpose is to provide for the needs of people in the community,” added Cate. “And without a church doing that, they become irrelevant.”

Vacant land is a scarce commodity in St. Petersburg, and Palm Lake Christian Church has it in spades.

According to PLCC’s website, a 10-acre chicken farm occupied the site until the church opened in 1958. It has since grown from 94 to over 700 members.

Cate explained that charter school officials approached PLCC’s leadership about five years ago with interest in the vacant property. While they decided against that proposal, she said it led to the realization that they could better utilize the land.

However, Cate said she hit “roadblock after roadblock” because the site’s zoning only allows for single-family housing or churches and schools. Then the pandemic swept over the area, which put all plans on hold.

Once city officials notified Cate of the new legislation, she began recruiting experts. She reached out to Norstar Development after it received the Jordan Park redevelopment contract and company officials agreed to take on the project.

In addition, Cate noted that an architect with OUTSIDEIn Architecture is a church member. He created the site plan and is leading PLCC through the city process.

Cate said people with disabilities are an oft-overlooked piece of the affordable housing puzzle, so the church’s board decided to dedicate most of the proposed units to that demographic.

“I think the house bill has opened up a lot of possibilities to address this issue,” she said. “And I think St. Petersburg has reached such a crisis situation in the housing community.”







Continue Reading


  1. Avatar

    Josh B

    January 28, 2023at7:19 pm

    As a home owner that lives just two blocks away from the proposed development. I can’t help but feel like this is a major bummer. While the church’s aspirations are admirable, they are doing it at the expense of the neighborhood homeowners that sought a safe, quiet neighborhood when they purchased. I agree that St. Pete has become less affordable, but there are so many other areas in the city that can be developed to meet this need, that doesn’t require the re-zoning of a quiet and established neighborhood. If affordable housing does get approved, I hope that the church also has a specific plan for property up keep, safety and traffic management which is already becoming an issue due to many people speeding through the neighborhood. I can only expect adding 14 casitas and 72 beds will compound that issue. I hope the church board and city will create an appropriate forum for local home owners to voice their opinions and oppose this development in our neighborhood.

  2. Avatar

    James n Blinn

    January 29, 2023at10:54 am

    My home at 22nd ave and 57th street is already overrun with the school there and traffic.This is bad news for my family.Somehow park space wouldnt pay as much.

  3. Avatar

    Paul W.

    January 29, 2023at12:15 pm

    I agree with Josh’s sentiments. I bought in the area due to the quiet and peaceful nature near my home. I am hoping that doesn’t go away once these structures are built.
    Paul W.

  4. Avatar

    Ann B

    January 29, 2023at12:55 pm

    As a homeowner in the neighborhood I agree with Josh B. 100%. After renting in this neighborhood we liked it so much we purchased a house in the neighborhood and have been happy here for almost 20 years until we heard about what this church is trying to do to our quiet, safe neighborhood.

  5. Avatar

    Lauren D

    January 29, 2023at1:29 pm

    I bought my home in this neighborhood almost two years ago. I understand the market conditions and how difficult it is finding a home. So when I finally found a home in this safe and quiet neighborhood I was thrilled. As a single woman in my 30s seeing this article is incredibly bothersome.

    I can only imagine the number of people they are attempting to squeeze into the land there. What that will do to our traffic. What will this due to our safety. What procedures have been sought after to protect the peace of our neighborhood as it seems the current residents are being overlooked.

  6. Avatar

    Kristie B

    January 30, 2023at2:02 pm

    I agree with everyones sentiments. I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 29 years. It has been a quiet and peaceful neighborhood. I now have concerns with what this will do for safety, traffic on our residential streets, and property values.

  7. Avatar

    Michael dixon

    January 30, 2023at5:45 pm

    I have lots of questions on this one . First thing no where in this article did they say they approached the Neighborhood association on what the public wants in our neighborhood or had any public forum . I may be wrong on this Some of the questions i have is who owns them who get”s the revenue where is the money for rent or ownership coming from . Not trying to be disrespectful to her father this may have been his vision but the neighborhood has a voice in this .
    Sounds like this thing is being fast tracked with the help of Council

  8. Avatar

    Patricia Randazzo

    February 2, 2023at6:26 am

    Is this 72 beds or 72 apartments? What kind of disabilities qualify? A lot of questions beyond this need to be answered. We all live in a wonderful neighborhood and need to be kept informed of this proposal.

  9. Avatar


    February 2, 2023at11:42 am

    If the church is so concerned about the housing crisis, then the church should sell their property so single-family houses can be built there.
    I have lived here for almost 40 years and love my neighborhood. There is a reason for “Cate said she hit “roadblock after roadblock” because the site’s zoning only allows for single-family housing or churches and schools.” This is what the area was designed for and should not be changed to satisfy the church’s wishes. We have needs and wishes also. I struggled very hard as a parent to move my family to this area, saving every nickel and dime to put a downpayment on my house and pay my monthly mortgage.
    I appreciate the kind thought for the church wanting to help people, that’s what churches do, but it should not be at the expense of the church’s kind neighborhood. I love the fact that “a 10-acre chicken farm occupied the site until the church opened”. AND we are still zoned to allow chickens. Then so should our area remain for single-family housing or churches and schools, there is a need for this as well. Maybe after the church sells the property and single-family homes are bult there, a family can buy that house and also take care of a low income disabled family member, while their children go to the local schools and churches in the area.
    I agree with Josh and would expect the church board and city to create an appropriate forum for local homeowners to voice their opinions and oppose this development in our neighborhood.

  10. Avatar


    February 2, 2023at2:07 pm

    I just read the article for a similar situation in Seminole FL:
    “County documents state that the Local Planning Agency (LPA) voted 4-1 to deny the request due to the proposal’s lack of compatibility with the surrounding residential neighborhood and potential traffic, drainage and evacuation issues. Brian Aungst, an attorney representing residents opposed to the development, told commissioners he could distill their “grave concerns” into just a few words – density and multi-family use.”
    The same applies to the Palm Lake Christian Church proposal.

  11. Avatar


    February 2, 2023at9:07 pm

    Having moved here from a city that catered to this type of ideology, we lived through seeing how good intentions turned into enabling the worst of society destroying the beautiful, peaceful, and safe neighborhoods. I fear the neighborhood would not be safe or quiet and having this next to a school could be catastrophic. Who will regulate the residents behaviors? Will it become a revolving door? Would drug addiction and serious mental health issues fall under people with disabilities?

  12. Avatar


    February 2, 2023at9:43 pm

    Locating this development in a quiet, safe neighborhood, on property adjacent to an elementary school would be a mistake. There is a reason that property zoning exists and is difficult to change: people deliberately locate their families in safe residential areas and need the stability that the zoning ensures.

  13. Avatar

    James Blinn

    February 3, 2023at8:53 pm

    This is a dark cloud over our nice neighborhood.The church people have met concerns with conceited resentment.Speaking of loving thy neighbor while practically threatening them.We need help alright this project will be a thorn in the side and blemish on the front of northwest for years and years

  14. Avatar


    February 4, 2023at10:37 am

    Please read:

    What is going on! Something has to be done! There is already too much traffic in our city!

  15. Avatar


    February 6, 2023at10:24 am


  16. Avatar


    February 7, 2023at2:43 pm

    We have to hire an attorney like Brian Aungst who represented a Seminole community.

    I have been very good advice from someone else that experienced a similar situation.

    The city and the church are not concerned with our opinions or concerns.

    The only information they look at is facts prepared and presented by an expert.

    The city will want facts such as the proposed percent increase in density under existing land use.

  17. Avatar


    February 14, 2023at3:52 pm

    I emailed all of St Petersburg City Council members, but they could discuss anything with me.

    They advised “ If you have questions regarding this project, please contact Neighborhood Affairs Administrator Amy Foster at

  18. Avatar

    Larry Burns

    February 16, 2023at12:37 pm

    Totally against this. Been in this neighborhood for 49years. Moved here because it was a nice quiet area. Traffic has been increasing for years. Definitely not lookin to increase it even more.

  19. Avatar


    February 16, 2023at6:54 pm

  20. Avatar

    Cyndi Houff

    February 19, 2023at6:51 pm

    There is a meeting tomorrow night at 630 behind the church. ALL ATTEND!!

  21. Avatar


    February 20, 2023at12:50 pm

    I live within 300′ of this property, and therefore received the Notice of Public Hearing dated February 15th, in the mail, postmarked February 10th, 2023.

    Request: Case No. AHSPR 23-01 is for the approval of an Affordable Housing Site Plan to construct one 3-story building with up to 72 dwelling units and 7 1-story buildings with up to 2 dwelling units per building for a total of 86 dwelling units.

    The property is presently zoned Institutional.

    A concerned neighbor came round to seek signatures against the development and at that time I was able to view a high level site plan which keeps the church in place and builds around it. Included with the PDF site plan was a definition of “disability”, for the purpose of the proposed development could include physical disability, mental health disability and recovering substance abusers.

    My concerns are as follows:

    Will the developer be required to install a traffic signal on 22nd Avenue North and 53rd Street to accommodate the higher level of traffic that an increase of 86 dwelling units will create?

    Who will be the property manager, as these units will be rentals?

    Who will provide living services to the disabled who are the target market for these units? Will they be qualified health care professionals or the church?

    I am conflicted as I know there is a need for such housing, however I believe those that would qualify for this type of housing would need professional, committed assurances they would be cared for and live in a well maintained and safe environment.

    I have lived here for 15 years and have observed the church in decline for various reasons. Being able to run a thriving community church is not the same skill set as managing affordable housing units for the disabled.

    There are too many unanswered questions from the perspective of an existing neighborhood property owner or from the perspective of a potential renter to agree with the development proposal.

  22. Avatar


    April 4, 2023at8:29 pm

    It is not about affordable housing. There are plenty of places to build affordable homes.
    I’m against the rezoning!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By posting a comment, I have read, understand and agree to the Posting Guidelines.

The St. Pete Catalyst

The Catalyst honors its name by aggregating & curating the sparks that propel the St Pete engine.  It is a modern news platform, powered by community sourced content and augmented with directed coverage.  Bring your news, your perspective and your spark to the St Pete Catalyst and take your seat at the table.

Email us:

Subscribe for Free

Share with friend

Enter the details of the person you want to share this article with.