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Seminole opts out of affordable-housing plan

SEMINOLE — Council members have decided to opt out of a county proposal that would encourage developers to include affordable housing in their new projects.

"I don't see anything in here for the city of Seminole," council member Peter Hofstra said during a workshop Tuesday.

The other six council members agreed with him. The proposal, they said, could actually be detrimental to Seminole because it could have the unintended consequence of sending both money and affordable housing elsewhere in Pinellas.

Seminole's ordinance might be tweaked, but is working well and does not need to be scrapped, they said.

Pinellas County officials have touted the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance as a possible solution to the housing crisis. They have traveled to Pinellas municipalities, urging them not to opt out of the proposal.

The proposed ordinance would grant developers a density bonus for including low-cost housing in their new projects. The density bonus would allow the developer to build more units on a piece of land than is normally allowed.

"The only thing that ever works to make land cheaper is to put more units on a lot," Pinellas County's director of community development Anthony Jones recently told Pinellas Park council members.

The ordinance would apply to developments of 20 or more units, which could be single-family homes, condominiums, townhomes or apartments. The developer would receive a density bonus of up to 50 percent.

The affordable, or inclusionary, units would have to be built to the same standard as the rest of the development, but could be smaller and could have fewer or less costly

features to reduce builder costs.

The goal is to have the developer put the inclusionary housing on the same parcel of land as the rest of the development. That would not be feasible in some cases, so the proposal gives the developer three options to still get the density bonus:

Build the affordable housing elsewhere in the county, give land to the county in lieu of the housing, or pay money to the county's Housing Trust Fund.

It was those options that most concerned Seminole City Manager Frank Edmunds and the council members.

"We would rather have them built at the same location," Edmunds said. If Seminole developers chose any of the other options, the city could end up with no affordable housing. That could come back to haunt Seminole in 10, 12, or 13 years, Edmunds said.

Hofstra pointed out that when the county explained the program to Seminole council members, they were told that any money going to the Housing Trust Fund would be spent in Clearwater, Largo or St. Petersburg rather than Seminole. That's essentially giving money away, he said.

Edmunds recommended that the council maintain the city's ordinance rather than use the county plan, although he said that Seminole's rules could be tweaked using some of the language from the county proposal.

Under Seminole's current rule, developers of large projects must negotiate with city officials for variances. City officials can encourage the developer to include affordable units during those negotiations. The council decides whether the developer is granted the changes he wants.

The process, Edmunds said, gives the city a lot of control over what is built and how it is constructed. The council, he said, should retain that power.

Seminole opts out of affordable-housing plan 05/31/08 [Last modified: Saturday, May 31, 2008 4:32am]
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