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Public housing plan approved

Public housing officials are proposing to build a 33-unit complex in the Meadowlawn area and provide another 75 families with subsidies to rent private-sector homes and apartments throughout the city.

The 33 duplex and triplex homes would be built on 14 acres south of 62nd Avenue N and west of 16th Street, east of Interstate 275. The location is close to Meadowlawn Middle School, Northeast High School and Town Plaza Shopping Center.

St. Petersburg Housing Authority officials say they have made a purchase offer on the land, contingent on approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The offer is for $300,000 or the appraised value, whichever is lower. The housing authority has been dealing with Commercial Property Unlimited in St. Petersburg, the agent for the property owner. Documents supplied by the housing authority list the owner as Meadowlawn Presbyterian Church, 1770 62nd Ave. N.

The plan, which the housing authority approved at a special meeting Friday morning, resolves a five-year problem over how to replace the former Laurel Park complex.

The city bought Laurel Park in 1990 and demolished it to make room for ThunderDome parking. Since then, the housing authority has been trying to make up for the 168 housing units that were destroyed.

As a partial replacement, HUD issued 60 certificates for Section 8, a program that enables residents to rent private housing at amounts based on their incomes.

That left 108 homes the housing authority needed to buy or build. The authority had discussed scattering small complexes throughout the city. But its staff had trouble finding enough land, and HUD had set a January 1995 deadline to start building.

The board now wants to build 33 units and ask HUD for 75 more Section 8 certificates.

The board has not decided exactly what the buildings will look like. But executive director Ray Price said they will be one and two stories high, with no more than three units per building. Price said he would like to use a variety of styles.

When asked if he expects opposition from the community, Price said, "We always expect opposition when we build public housing."

The plans took neighbors by surprise.

"I've never heard anything about this and I think I should have heard it from the housing authority," said Eugene Mills, who lives at 1765 62nd Ave. N, when told of the plans by a newspaper reporter Friday afternoon. "Oh, man."

Mills said the proposed housing authority project concerns him, mostly because of crime it might bring to the area. The size of the project did not allay Mills' fears, he said.

Mills, who has lived in what he described as a middle-income residential neighborhood of Meadowlawn for 30 years, said the news almost made him want to put up a sign in his front yard. What would the sign say? "For sale," Mills said.

Mills said he plans to get together with other neighbors to discuss what to do about the proposal and their concerns.

The Meadowlawn community is forming a neighborhood association, said Jon Clarke, president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations. CONA does not take a stand on issues like the housing proposal, but would encourage members of the community to get together to voice their opinions, Clarke said.

Price said 33 units should be far more palatable than a larger complex. What's more, he said, the new Section 8 certificates will bolster the private rental market.

Officials estimate the Meadowlawn development, including land, will cost $2.3-million. The money would come from funds HUD already has set aside to replace Laurel Park.

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