TARPON SPRINGS — A proposed apartment complex aimed at helping with a shortage of affordable housing for seniors has moved closer to reality after Pinellas County commissioners approved zoning, land use and density bonus changes.
The commission's 5-1 vote last week gives John and Bonnie Mills — who for 22 years operated Snowden's Nursery and a florist business on a 55-acre property they co-own at 1800 Alt. U.S. 19 — carte blanche to find a developer who wants to buy the parcel from the couple and build the project.
Envisioned as a 125-unit complex that would have five to six stories of apartments over parking and cater to the 55-plus crowd, John Mills acknowledged that the final project might not be limited to senior housing.
However, Mills said he has already been in talks with several potential buyers who have expressed interest in that use, especially given the growing waiting list for Santos Isle, another Tarpon Springs affordable complex for seniors.
He said several developers had also cited a need for veterans housing and his parcel's ideal location near Florida Hospital North Pinellas.
But Mills said he believes there's "a very good chance" that the final product will be senior housing. Mills, who has lived in Tarpon Springs since 1972, said he is in "no huge hurry" to sell to a developer.
"Affordable housing makes a lot of people uncomfortable," Mills said. "But we're certainly not going to put something out there that we don't feel is good for the community. It's very important to us that whatever ends up out there is good for Tarpon."
The proposal had sparked controversy among neighbors, 88 of whom signed a petition saying they feared the project would endanger wetlands on the property and bring noise and traffic.
Commissioner Norm Roche, who cast the lone vote against the rezoning, was unavailable Tuesday for comment.
Commissioner Susan Latvala was absent from last week's county meeting.
But Mills said the plan to build on only 4 acres of the parcel's 55 acres means the wetlands won't be disturbed. And he argued that a residential community will generate less traffic than the previous nursery business that operated on the site.
The eventual developer must make at least 20 percent of the units affordable housing or lose the density bonus, according to Mills and his attorney, Ed Armstrong.
The entrance would be on Alt. U.S. 19. The developer would not be allowed to provide access through the nearby Grassy Pointe subdivision, Mills said.
Mills, who said he has participated in several small real estate development projects in Pinellas since the 1970s, said he and his wife always knew they would close up their Tarpon businesses and develop the property. The businesses closed in 2003.
However, the couple isn't going far.
They plan to move a century-old home on their property, which they believe operated as a bed and breakfast in the 1920s and 1930s, to a 2-acre parcel adjacent to the Tarpon Springs municipal golf course.
The older home would serve as a guest house, while the couple would live in a new home they would build beside it.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.