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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174.