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County commissioners okay a land use change to encourage affordable units.
Published Oct. 23, 2008

Despite angry voices of opposition, the Pinellas County Commission has approved a land use change for a controversial affordable housing project on Old Tampa Bay.

In a unanimous vote, the board increased permitted building densities across 23 acres just west of the southern end of Bayside Bridge. Developers hope to build 193 apartment units there with 39 of them set aside as affordable.

Also envisioned are 37 townhomes or single-family waterfront homes to be sold at market rate.

The plan differs some from one detailed in an earlier development agreement. The commission will consider the revised agreement Dec. 2. State regulators must also approve the project, called Bayside Reserves, a process that can take months.

David Healey, executive director of the Pinellas Planning Council, a body that advises the county on land use decisions, spoke out against the project. Healey said the housing densities proposed are too intense and the surrounding road network is inadequate.

"I don't think it's reasonable to conclude that what's proposed is compatible with the surrounding area," Healey said.

He also cautioned against the county granting a land use change without a firm development agreement in place.

About 250 people showed up for the meeting on Tuesday night, though with many hot issues on the agenda, not all of them were there to speak against Bayside Reserves. But a good portion were.

David Waddell, a 50-year-old home remodeler, has gathered 642 signatures on a petition opposed to the project. He told the commission that the proposal is in conflict with the county's goal of reducing development in flood-prone areas. He also said it would ruin his community.

"This is an unfair intrusion in our neighborhood," said Waddell, who lives in a single-family home about 500 feet from the property.

Concerns that Banc of America Community Development Corp. had backed out of the deal were eased when Dennis Ruppel, a Clearwater attorney working on the project, produced a letter he said makes clear the corporation is still involved.

The Bayside Reserves project has been in development for two years, a time when the County Commission has made vocal and public commitments to affordable housing. Despite the chorus of opponents, they proved unwilling to reject the project.

Just before the vote, County Commissioner Karen Seel sought to defuse residents' concerns that the affordable housing component of the project would bring the wrong element into the community.

"This is a live, work and play place," Seel told the crowd. "These aren't people who are going to create crimes and bring fear into your neighborhoods."

Will Van Sant can be reached at or 445-4166.