DUNEDIN — Developers will bring preliminary plans for a luxury apartment building along the Dunedin Causeway before a city advisory group tonight.
Arcadia Luxury Apartments was initially approved two years ago as a condominium project. At the time, developers said they needed to presell as many as 14 of the 20 units to finance construction, city records show. The economy continued to sour, and the 1.2-acre property at 265 Causeway Blvd. sat vacant.
Developers have revised their plan and hope to turn the property into 26 upscale rental units that would go for $1,500 to $1,800 a month.
But first, project planners must seek support from the city's local planning agency, a citizen advisory board that reviews all matters affecting the land development code. They will meet at 6:30 tonight at City Hall, 542 Main St. The City Commission is slated to consider the project and the planning agency's recommendations in January.
City staffers support the apartments, saying the complex would help fuel business for merchants along the causeway. That corridor doesn't get as much spring break traffic as Clearwater, so business owners currently rely mainly on snowbird traffic, said Dunedin planning and development director Greg Rice.
"They struggle during the summer, when the out-of-town folks aren't here," Rice said, so this proposal "could be a good thing because you would expect more year-round residency from an apartment complex."
Back in 2009, commission meeting minutes show, the city gave the developers approval to erect a four-story luxury condominium building, containing 20 1,500-square-foot units, above a ground-floor parking structure.
The property has been vacant since at least 2004, records show.
The agreement gave developers up to two years to complete the structure, but if the market dictated that the site was more conducive to another project, such as a restaurant or mixed retail, they could return to the city within that time frame with a new plan.
The city staff explained that the project was to be "market driven," with the developers needing to line up at least 50 percent in presales to fund the condos unless they were able to secure cash from another project.
In this economy, unfortunately, folks aren't buying condos and lenders aren't giving money to finance them, said Vince Iannucci, a project manager with LT Construction of Tampa Bay, which is planning the project along with developer Gus Damis of Clearwater.
"We decided to stray away from condos for this reason: The economy can't support condo developments," he said. "It's a shame. People are losing their homes, having to move out. The rental market across the country has just taken off. That's where we see the need for rental units."
But these won't be just any type of apartments, Iannucci said. The proposed complex features 56 ground-floor parking spaces, an exercise room and pool, and five stories of 1,627-square-foot, two-bedroom, 2 1/2-bathroom units with private balconies overlooking the scenic St. Joseph Sound, according to Iannucci and architectural schematics. He described the building's exterior as having a "Key West" or "Anglo-Carribbean" feel.
"This is a win-win because we're creating (local construction) jobs and essentially trying to attract people to our area who … hopefully are here to stay and shop and eat in our area and live a peaceful life," Iannucci said. "And that is obviously a benefit to the city: It will bring revenue."
Rice said the planning agency tonight will evaluate traffic circulation, potential environmental impacts, and whether the proposed project is compatible with recommended architectural guidelines and surrounding buildings.
Even if the project meets planning agency and City Commission approval, developers still will need Pinellas County's and Florida's permission to build 26 units. That's because county-wide building density rules cap rental units at 24 per acre, and Dunedin's 2025 comprehensive plan stipulates 15 units per acre.
The City Commission gave the preliminary okay this month to tweak city guidelines to match Pinellas' standards, but the county and state have to approve the city's change, Rice said.
The commission would then have to formally vote on changing the city's rules after a second public hearing. Rice said the process could take 90 to 120 days.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153.