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Clearwater advances developer’s plan for affordable housing downtown

The project would use funding from Clearwater and Pinellas County to build 171 units of affordable housing

CLEARWATER — In an effort to build more affordable housing in the city and bring residents downtown to aid in revitalization, the city is pursuing a developer’s plan to build 171 apartment units on city-owned property between South Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. avenues.

The $38 million project would be a collaboration between the city, Pinellas County and SP Clearwater, an affiliate of Tampa-based Southport Financial Services, led by developers Peter Leach and David Page. On Monday the City Council, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, directed staff to prepare an agreement for the sale and development of the land at 306 S. Washington Ave.

The 3.4 acre property is a former auto salvage site which the city bought in 2003 and completed environmental remediation in 2009.

“This really fulfills a dream that we’ve had, that I’ve had, for 18 years on this site,” city council member David Allbritton said. “This many units will really make a difference on people that are putting feet on the street in our downtown.”

SP Clearwater is requesting $2.2 million from the $80 million portion of Penny for Pinellas 1-cent sales tax revenue that the county set aside for affordable housing through 2030. It is one of 18 projects that requested funding in the first round of grants, which will go to the Board of County Commissioners by the end of this year for approval, according to Brian Lowack, interim director of housing and community development.

The developer is requesting the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency sell the property to the Pinellas County Land Trust and then reinvest the $3.2 million sale proceeds into the project, Leach said.

The Land Trust would enter a 99-year lease with the developer under terms that 104 units remain at or below 120 percent of area median income, or $84,360 for a family of four, a threshold that Pinellas County considers affordable housing . The project proposes 49 units will remain at or below 100 percent of the regions midpoint income; and for 18 units to remain at or below 80 percent of the area median income, or $56,250 for a family of four, which the federal government considers low income.

SP Clearwater's proposed 171-unit apartment complex for 306 S Washington Ave.
SP Clearwater's proposed 171-unit apartment complex for 306 S Washington Ave. [ City of Clearwater ]

Lowack said the county’s goal with its Penny funding is to “create as much affordability as we can" by developing new projects and renovating existing housing.

“We don’t need to be building hundreds of affordable housing units, we need to be building thousands,” Lowack said.

Leach said the restricted rents in the one and two bedroom apartments will act as a cap on rent increases as time goes on. He said today the 120 percent average median income threshold is higher than what many market rate apartments are going for but he expects that dynamic to flip over time.

“We need to look at this project where its going to be 10, 20, 30 years from now,” Leach said.

The project, Washington Avenue Apartments, would include low-flow toilets, a dog walking area, 275 parking stalls, two playgrounds, a pool and other amenities. Leach said he intends to install solar panels on the roof to cover baseline electric costs like street lights.

If the development agreement is approved by the city and if the county grants SP Clearwater Penny funding, Leach predicted a completion date in December 2022. The Southport group has developed 42 projects totaling 4,762 units in Florida and Georgia since 2015, according to data provided to the city.

The city attempted to bring more affordable housing downtown last year with a developer’s proposal to build 81 units at the site of a former fire station on Franklin Street. But Blue Sky Communities' $22 million project depended on securing $17 million in state tax credits. The state did not select the developer for tax credits, and an affiliate of Blue Sky is reapplying for the project.