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Company shelves housing project

The Tampa company planning to build 200 apartments near Crystal River Mall has abandoned its plans for a second time.

The Wilson Co. said changes in a state grant program would have made the project less competitive because it is too far from a grocery store, public school and other services.

For example, the proposed development site is roughly 2.5 miles from a grocery. Developments within a mile of a store score better on applications for funding, said Chris Bowers, Wilson Co. vice president.

The so-called proximity qualifications, as outlined by the Florida Housing Finance Corp., which administers the federal program, are used to break a tie.

Bowers said he expected more applications for the subsidies, and thus more competition, because the state lowered the amount of matching funds needed from local government.

The city of Crystal River dropped its own plan for 80 affordable homes near LaGrone Park as a result of the Wilson Co. proposal.

Now that it has fallen through, City Manager Phil Lilly said he will ask the City Council to decide what to do next, if anything.

The Wilson Co. was seeking $7-million in federal assistance, half of the cost of the project, which was to be geared toward low- and moderate-income residents.

"We'd still like to do a deal there, but it wouldn't work conventionally," Bowers said. "Your cost would be too high, and the rents you could achieve would not pay the debt."

Plans for the affordable housing complex first emerged in fall 2000. The company said there was a definite need for quality apartments for the area's police officers, secretaries and single parents.

But matching money from Citrus County for rental housing had been committed to Heron Woods in northern Inverness, so the plan was put on hold for a year.

Feeling its chances had diminished under the new state guidelines, the Wilson Co. recently withdrew its request for county funding.

Last week, the Citrus Times reported that Creative Choice Homes of Palm Beach Gardens had been awarded $75,000 to help build 100 units for seniors behind the Regions Bank on County Road 491.

The county also awarded $75,000 to Florida Low Income Housing Associates Inc., which is planning 20 duplexes in Flying Dutchman Estates, just north of County Road 486 and a half-mile east of County Road 491.

If the Wilson Co. had succeeded with its plan, it would have used the county money as leverage in obtaining federal tax credits through the Florida Housing Finance Corp. The company would have sold its credits to a bank or corporation, generating about $7-million.

Nearly all of the 200 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments would have been offered below market rates, Bowers said.

The federal program mandates that at least 40 percent of the units be made available to families that earn 60 percent of the median income for the region.

The median family income in Citrus County is about $37,700, according to state figures. A family of four earning 60 percent of that amount makes $22,620.