City leaders are eager to see a new affordable apartment complex replace a rundown mobile home park on Clearwater-Largo Road.
Not so fast, says the park's new owner, HUDO Lending, managed by HuntDouglas Real Estate Services in Tampa.
HUDO has a contract to sell the park property at 1760 Clearwater-Largo Road to the Richman Group of Florida, which wants to build more than 140 affordable apartments.
But HUDO doesn't want to lose the right to open a mobile home park there if the deal falls through.
The city says it can't open a mobile home park on the site because the park doesn't conform with the Clearwater-Largo Road Community Redevelopment District plan.
To postpone and likely avoid litigation with the city, HUDO offered a solution through its attorney, Ed Armstrong of Clearwater.
"It strikes us that such litigation would be an unwise use of both parties' time, energy, and financial resources, particularly given the pending sale to Richman," Armstrong wrote in a letter dated April 27.
He proposed that the city and HUDO enter an agreement that would basically put both parties on hold until Dec. 31.
Last week, city commissioners gave staff the okay to negotiate that agreement.
The agreement would avoid costs of a dispute that may be meaningless, City Attorney Alan Zimmet told commissioners.
"If the property sells to the Richman Group, then we'll all go our merry way," Zimmet said.
The park, known as No Go Largo Village, was shut down in October 2008 and declared unfit for human habitation after the previous owner failed to pay the water bill. HUDO foreclosed on a mortgage on the property and bought the park with a limited liability company in March.
Four years ago, the Richman Group of Florida, based in West Palm Beach, broke ground on the Belleair Place Apartments at Ponce De Leon Boulevard and Clearwater-Largo Road. Seventy percent of those units were set aside for affordable homes.
The Richman Group hopes to build 144 more affordable apartments on the mobile home park site and another property just south of Belleair Place. The design of the complex would be similar to Belleair Place.
All of the two- and three-bedroom units would be classified as affordable. Ninety percent, or 129 units, would be allocated for renters who make 60 percent of the area median income or less. The rest would be set aside for those earning 35 percent of the median income or less.
At last week's city meeting, Damon Kolb, development associate with the Richman Group, told commissioners that annual income limits for most renters would range from about $24,800 to $41,200.
At that meeting, commissioners approved the commitment of $500,000 to offset permitting and impact fees for the Richman Group. The money would come from Pinellas County's affordable housing trust fund and State Housing Initiatives Partnership grant funds.
The Richman Group is applying for affordable housing tax credits from Florida Housing Finance Corp. and expects to find out if it will receive them this fall, the company told commissioners last month. If it does, construction could start by early 2010.
The project, in one of Largo's redevelopment districts, would symbolize the transformation of the corridor, said Carol Stricklin, the city's community development director.
"It would be a very visible sign of the revitalization that was anticipated with the adopted (redevelopment) plan," Stricklin said.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.