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Planning unit gives okay to developer

(ran Seminole, East editions)

Despite neighborhood objections, the Pinellas Planning Council on Wednesday narrowly approved a plan for as many as 207 housing units, including some affordable housing, to be built on land in the Greater Ridgecrest area.

The plan now goes back to the Pinellas County Commission for final approval.

More than 250 area residents signed petitions opposing the move by Terra Excavating, which would replace its construction scrap yard at 134th Avenue and Pine Street with an 18.43-acre residential complex. Residents said they feared a drop in property values.

At least 20 percent of the homes would be set aside for affordable housing under the plan. No developer has been selected, and no final decision has been made on whether the units will be rented or sold.

Tim Johnson, Terra Excavating's attorney, said the company is leaning toward selling the units.

Before the vote, council member and Largo Mayor Robert Jackson noted that Rainbow Village, a low-income housing project, already sits across the street from the site. Approving the plan would lead to a "concentration" of housing for poor people in the area, he said.

But Johnson assured the group the new development would be far different from the traditional low-income housing at the aging Rainbow Village.

"They're as different as night and day," he said.

Voting for the change were council members Sandra Bradbury, Bill Foster, Susan Latvala, Hoyt Hamilton, Jane Gallucci, Robert Hackworth and Deborah Martohue. Opposing it were Jerry Beverland, Jackson, Pete Bengston, Nadine Nickerson and Beverley Billiris.

David Healey, the council's executive director, said the group struggled with the County Commission's initial approval of the project before information about the affordable housing component was known.

"Had that been sorted out with the community and with the county's own community development department, there would have been a lot more comfort with what is being proposed," he said.

But Johnson said the commission knew everything possible about the plans at the time.

"It wasn't that anything was slid by them," he said. "It was a full and frank and open discussion."