Despite opposition from hundreds of neighbors, Pinellas County commissioners gave preliminary approval late Tuesday to a five-story apartment complex near the Bayside Bridge.
Commissioners said their long-standing quest to provide affordable housing trumped opponents' issues.
"The needs in this county are very well-documented," Commission Chairman Bob Stewart said.
More than 100 people showed up at the meeting to fight the 23-acre Bayside Reserves project. Some 500 more signed petitions protesting the plan.
Real estate agent and developer Roger Broderick and Banc of America Community Development Corp. propose to build 209 apartments in Bayside Reserves. At least 42 units would be set aside for workforce housing.
More than a dozen people spoke in opposition, saying Bayside Reserves was out of scale for their neighborhood and would increase traffic.
"We understand reasonable affordable housing," neighbor Richard Shott said. "We don't understand a 209-unit complex. It's just way out of whack for our neighborhood."
Resident Sheila Gantt was moved to tears at the possibility of disturbing a bald eagle's nest in a cell phone tower about 660 feet from the property.
"It is not fair to the neighborhood or the wildlife for you to develop this amazing piece of land," she said.
Officials have said the nest is too far from the development to be affected.
Opponents also object because the developer's attorney works for a firm that serves as general counsel for the Pinellas County Housing Finance Authority, which is crucial to the project. But County Attorney Jim Bennett said there is no conflict at this point in the process.
But not everyone opposed the plan. Arthur O'Hara, executive director of R Club Child Care, said his workers and the families his agency serves need work force housing.
The land-use changes approved Tuesday night still must be reviewed by the Pinellas Planning Council and the state Department of Community Affairs. If it gets those approvals, Bayside Reserves could come back to the commission by early next year.