Tarpon Springs passes revised plan for Mango Circle public housing

TARPON SPRINGS — A revised plan to upgrade one of the city's public housing communities has received unanimous approval — weeks after the initial concept was panned because of the lack of play areas for children.

Tarpon Springs city commissioners voted 5-0 Tuesday night to allow the city's Housing Authority to demolish the 60-unit public housing complex constructed in 1973 and known as Mango Circle.

The new complex built on the 9.4-acre site will consist of a 104-unit, three-story affordable housing community that will include a walking trail, two recreation areas, a swimming pool, a club house and lots of open space.

A condition of the approval requires that the designated recreation and open spaces remain.

"One thing that is important is that we are not creating projects," Commissioner Peter Dalacos said. "Having fenced in all pavement, that affects the attitudes of people."

Mango Circle came into the City Commission's focus after an April 19 St. Petersburg Times story described the rundown condition of the facility's playground. The playground was removed by the end of April after a National Playground and Park Association inspector delivered a scathing report that deemed the site unsafe for children.

The Housing Authority ran into opposition when it made its proposal for the new complex. The city's Planning and Zoning Board denied the request. The main concern was the lack of open space and play area for the residents' children.

That plan was to be built in two phases and consisted of 176 units. It contained several large parking lots.

"You look at the plan and all they had was buildings and asphalt and not enough space to do what they want to do," William Vinson, a Planning and Zoning board member, said at the time. "It would not leave suitable room for kids to play, and you have that many buildings with kids. It's not a very good environment. Not a very safe environment."

In a separate Housing Authority request Tuesday, the City Commission approved a plan that will allow the authority to demolish 10 existing units on East Morgan Street and rebuild 28 new units. The units were initially built in 1969.

Ten of those units will be for public housing residents, the remainder will be geared toward residents needing below market rate housing, the Housing Authority said. The 1.77-acre site will include a club house and a putting green for recreation.

The Housing Authority is working with the Pinnacle Housing Group of Miami on both projects. The two entities are hoping to receive a Florida Housing Finance Authority tax credit for funding. If the credit is received, the Mango Circle project can be completed by late 2011. No completion date was given for the East Morgan Street project.

Commissioner Susan Slattery questioned where the current residents of Mango Circle will be placed once the community is razed.

Lisa Stephens of the Pinnacle Housing Group said relocation vouchers will be given to residents. Once Mango Circle is completed, the residents will have the option of moving back.

"Historically, less than half of those relocated to new housing" return to their former communities, Stephens said.

Stephens also said the Housing Authority and Pinnacle were listening. That's why the plan was revised.

"We heard the feedback," she told commissioners.

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174.

Commissioners move to settle two prolonged city quandaries

In other business, Tarpon Springs commissioners:

Accepted $5,000 for signs

• Unanimously agreed to accept $5,000 from a developer who installed bogus no parking signs near a city restaurant. The signs resulted in customers receiving parking tickets.

In a June 9 letter to the city, attorney Robert Shimberg maintains that his client Michael Bronson had the city's permission to install the 22 signs but as a "resident and business member of the community." Bronson has offered to pay the city.

"In return for the funds, we will require a full release of claims from the city in favor of Mr. Bronson and his appropriate business entities," Shimberg wrote.

The signs resulted in 233 citations being written near Jack Willie's Tarpon Turtle restaurant during a two-year period beginning in April 2006. At $20 a ticket, Bronson would pay $4,660. The city is working with the office of the Pinellas County Clerk of Circuit Court to see who paid the tickets and who didn't.

"At this point, I think accepting the offer would allow us to accomplish what we really wanted to accomplish," said Commissioner Peter Dalacos. "It allows us to settle this issue and move on."

Discussed Wal-Mart deal

• Asked their attorney to explore what options the city has for terminating a development agreement with Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart has allowed its application for a building permit to expire and the company has not approached the city with a revised site plan. That inaction could be considered a violation of the agreement, City Attorney Jim Yacavone said.

Several commissioners want to revoke a five-year development agreement with the retail giant.

There was thought that agreement, signed April 4, 2005, would expire next April. But a new bill passed in the state Legislature that takes effect July 1 may have complicated things. The bill extends the life of any development agreement two years and could make the Wal-Mart agreement binding until 2012.

Wal-Mart hit a snag in its attempt to build a 203,000-square-foot supercenter on the banks of the Anclote River last October. The commission voted 3-2 that Wal-Mart had allowed its concurrency certificate to expire. To ensure that a development has the infrastructure such as roads and sewer to handle a project, the certificate is required.

Mayor Beverley Billiris wants to ensure the city can prevail if it decides to revoke Wal-Mart's development agreement.

"It we take that step, we need to make sure we have the ammunition and that we are right," Billiris said. "We have to decide if we are in good legal standing if we go down this road."

Tarpon Springs passes revised plan for Mango Circle public housing 06/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 9:43pm]

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