Saturday, May 26, 2018
Business

Largo wants more apartments, and it's getting them

LARGO — The decaying remains of a golf driving range sit off 66th Street N just south of Ulmerton Road. There's a two-story structure that used to house air-conditioned tee boxes. The large site has long been abandoned and overgrown with vegetation, a 13-acre void in southeast Largo.

Now a developer has bought the property and is in talks with the city about building hundreds of market-rate apartments there. It's the same developer who's building 260 apartments at the former site of the Briarwood Travel Villa RV Park, 4 miles to the west near Largo Mall.

It's another sign that rental housing in Largo is taking off. And in an effort to spark more redevelopment, Largo leaders have decided to continue waiving the hefty fee that developers normally pay for parkland acquisition.

For many years, developers were required to pay impact fees to Largo to provide parks for the residents who would be moving into their new apartment complexes, condos and subdivisions. But for the past two years, Largo has stopped collecting its parkland fee.

Last week, Largo commissioners voted to extend the moratorium on this fee for another two years. They'll vote on this a second time at their Nov. 19 meeting. Officials have seen little opposition to this idea other than a disappointed letter from the Friends of Largo Nature Parks.

For the time being, commissioners are okay with not charging the fee because Largo already has nearly $2.2 million in the bank specifically for buying parkland.

However, officials also say they don't want to cancel the parks impact fee for good. "I'm afraid we're just going to keep on doing this," said Commissioner Michael Smith.

Fees amounted to $2,874 for single-family houses and $1,434 to $1,916 per unit for multifamily projects. A number of developers had asked the city to extend the moratorium.

One was Largo developer Steve McConihay, who bought the bankrupt Briarwood Travel Villa RV Park last year for $1.25 million. After a bumpy ride through the regulatory process, he has won approval to build 260 apartments there beginning in the spring. The new complex will be named the Boulevard.

McConihay has also snapped up the driving range property at 12700 66th St. N, just south of Ulmerton. It's the former site of the All in One Golf Practice and Learning Center, which closed years ago. Three years ago, a 304-unit apartment complex called Largo Villas was planned for the site, but the recession killed that plan.

McConihay's company, Dockside Investors, bought the 13 acres last year for $1.25 million, according to Pinellas County property records. The previous owners were in bankruptcy proceedings.

Largo commissioners voted last week to authorize city staffers to negotiate a development agreement with McConihay. City planners are talking about limiting the apartment complex to 288 units, while the developer's lawyer is talking about building 304 units.

The process should be simpler than the case of the Briarwood development, which faced significant delays due to tenants living in the RV park.

"Fortunately, y'all, this one has nobody living on it. There's nobody there. It's vacant land," McConihay's attorney, Jonathan Damonte, told Largo commissioners. "I'm hoping we're going to have a nice, short, happy trip this time."

Commissioners mostly wanted, and got, assurances that apartments would have market-rate rents and would not be subsidized housing.

"I'm glad to see something happening to this property finally," Commissioner Curtis Holmes said.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected]

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