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Dunedin gives it preliminary approval, but a final vote is set for Dec. 6.

New design plans for a townhome development that's being billed as the nation's first net-zero affordable housing project won praise from the Dunedin City Commission on Thursday.

Saying it was a long time coming, city leaders gave the preliminary nod to Dunedin Eco-Village, a 25-unit, green-certified, mixed-income complex aimed at promoting home ownership among working professionals.

The development would feature solar panels, meaning low or no electric bills for homeowners. Plans presented Thursday also included retro and futuristic design elements such as neighbor-friendly porches with columns, electric car chargers and hurricane-resistant windows and walls.

A second public hearing and final vote is set for Dec. 6.

"It's a good fit and it's good timing. We're seeing a bit of an upswing in housing," said Dunedin economic development director Bob Ironsmith. "I think it's going to be really attractive to people who want new housing that's energy-efficient and affordable."

Initially dubbed the Lorraine Leland project, the development is to be built at the corner of Martin Luther King Avenue and Lorraine Leland Street on 3 acres formerly occupied by Highlander Village, a Dunedin Housing Authority public housing complex that closed in 2002.

In 2007, the housing authority, city of Dunedin and Pinellas County partnered to build workforce housing on the site. However, the project stalled when the economy soured and home mortgage lending dried up. Things started moving again this spring.

City officials snubbed original design plans because they didn't fit the city's traditional architectural guidelines. But the new design presented Thursday - featuring large windows, metal roofs and other Florida Craftsman elements typical of early 20th century homes still standing in Dunedin today - drew praise from commissioners.

Planet Green Group chief executive officer Paavo Salmi also highlighted items like hospital-like air filters designed to keep out pollen and other irritants, LED lighting, and rear garages centered around a courtyard.

Safety features would include waterproof concrete walls designed to withstand high earthquake activity and winds up to 150 mph; high-impact windows that handle winds up to 70 mph; and the highest possible fire and hail ratings, which he said should mean lower homeowner insurance rates.

Special coatings on the walls and roof, he said, will guard against the need for paint or replacement.

"All that translates to cost savings for the home," Salmi said.

The two- and three-bedroom townhomes will range from 1,100 to 1,500 square feet and cost $130,000 to $170,000.

Elected leaders said the project is perfect for Florida's greenest city, which is known for firsts. It also complements Habitat for Humanity's Shady Grove affordable townhome development across the street, officials said.

Calling the project "clever," Mayor Dave Eggers said it was "worth waiting for."

Pending final approval, the city expects that contractors could possibly break ground as early as March 1.

In other news:

- Commissioners paid tribute to colleague David Carson, who was ousted by political newcomer Heather Gracy in the Nov. 6 election. The city will present a plaque to Carson, who did not attend Thursday's meeting. Gracy, Eggers (who bested former Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth) and Commissioner Julie Scales (who ran unopposed) will be sworn in during a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

- The city honored John Miller, a former Dunedin patrolman who was shot in the line of duty 25 years ago next week. As Miller approached a suspicious-looking pedestrian on Nov. 25, 1987, the man turned and shot Miller three times. The wounded patrolman fired back and held the gunman at bay until backup arrived. Miller is now with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and was named sergeant of the patrol operations bureau in May.

- A man who went into cardiac arrest as he biked home from Honeymoon Island thanked his rescuers during Thursday's meeting. Gary Sawtelle presented certificates to the three civilians and six Dunedin firefighter-paramedics who stopped to call 911, perform CPR and rush him to the hospital on June 9. Sawtelle, who is back to bicycling, said "I was so lucky that day. I had an angel on both my shoulders."

- Lt. Dwayne Fast was named Dunedin's Firefighter of the Year. The 16-year veteran was lauded for outstanding work and handyman skills, which included constructing an item for a fire vehicle that saved the city $1,500. He thanked his wife and daughters for standing by him, his father for passing on his construction skills and his colleagues for recognizing him.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or To write a letter to the editor, go to