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Pinellas housing project plan draws fire

The Pinellas County Commission will consider a controversial affordable housing project tonight, even as details of the development are being revised and funding questions have emerged.

The lack of clarity prompted the head of the Pinellas Planning Council, an advisory body to the commission, to question the wisdom of moving forward with the project Monday.

Original plans for the Bayside Reserves project called for 209 apartments to be built just west of the southern end of the Bayside Bridge. Of those, 42 were to be set aside as affordable units.

Also proposed were 10 single-family waterfront homes to be sold at market cost.

Tonight, the commission will consider changing the county's land map to allow the higher density development the plan calls for. But county staff members say the development agreement that details the project's specifics has changed and public hearings must be held to consider the revisions.

That concerns planning council executive director David Healey, who said that by granting the land use change before a development agreement is reached, the county loses leverage that could be used to negotiate a more favorable deal.

"From the standpoint of protecting the county's best interest in this thing," Healey said, "I think they would be reluctant to do that."

John Cueva, a zoning manager in the county's planning department, said the revised agreement calls for 193 apartments with 39 of them set aside as affordable. Instead of 10 waterfront homes at market cost, Cueva said 37 would be allowed under the new agreement.

Also, Cueva said, the two proposed apartment complex buildings would be three stories over a parking level instead of five.

A private developer, Roger Broderick, and Banc of America Community Development Corp. were behind the deal. But the new agreement doesn't mention Banc of America, which was to purchase bonds for the project from the county's Housing Finance Authority.

Monday, Bruce Bussey, an urban development manager in the county's community development department, said it wasn't clear whether Banc of America was still involved, but said financing the project was distinct from land use questions.

Dennis Long, an assistant county attorney, agreed and pointed out that the project must still be approved by state regulators and be heard again before the commission. Not until further along in the process, he said, would financing become critical.

"Not having a lender now is no big deal," Long said.

But David Waddell, a 50-year-old Realtor and home remodeler who heads community opposition to the project, said the financing question further weakens the case for Bayside Reserves.

Last month, Healey's planning council voted down the project, saying it was incompatible with the area, Waddell said. And with the real estate market having bottomed, he said, the need for affordable housing isn't urgent.

Also, Waddell said, the deal involves letting the developer build on nearly 9 acres of land near Old Tampa Bay that was purchased in the late 1980s with Penny for Pinellas money. The county would grant that land to the developer in exchange for affordable housing concessions.

That makes no sense to Waddell, who hopes to have between 100 and 200 project opponents at tonight's meeting.

"They've just got the wrong location and the wrong plan," he said.

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or 445-4166.

>>If you go

Public hearing

What: A hearing on Bayside Reserves

When: 6:30 p.m. today

Where: County Commission chamber, Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., downtown Clearwater

Pinellas housing project plan draws fire 10/20/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 23, 2008 6:48pm]
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