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Pinellas Park neighbors win fight against proposed apartment complex

The Belleair Development Group had hoped to build a multifamily complex that included some units of affordable housing.
A wooded area is seen near Calvary Chapel, located at 8900 US 19 in Pinellas Park. Neighboring residents opposed a planned multifamily development on a portion of the Calvary property.
A wooded area is seen near Calvary Chapel, located at 8900 US 19 in Pinellas Park. Neighboring residents opposed a planned multifamily development on a portion of the Calvary property. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Jun. 16, 2020

PINELLAS PARK — Residents fighting what they view as the rapid and unchecked growth of apartments in the vicinity of U.S. 19 were victorious last week when the Pinellas Park City Council denied a developer permission to add another 239 units to the wave of multifamily construction.

Addressing the council, Joanna Sands, who lives at Mainlands of Tamarac by the Gulf — a sprawling, long-established 55-plus community of 1,937 homes — said more than 1,200 signatures had been collected for a petition opposing the new project. The effort also was boosted by former Mayor Bill Mischler, a Mainlands resident, who spoke against the project.

“It was a massive team effort,” Sands said. “We’re very happy. We think it is the best decision for this community.”

But Carlos Yepes, co-owner of the Belleair Development Group with his son, Christian, is “very disappointed.”

“We are going to see what our options are going forward,” he said. “The zoning allowed multifamily. We should have received approval. I think the commissioners were influenced by the amount of the objection from the residents.”

Related: Mainlands of Tamarac by the Gulf neighbors say the influx of apartment dwellers has caused choking traffic. They want a moratorium on new complexes.

Belleair Development Group had sought permission to build on almost 10 acres of property owned by Calvary Chapel at 8900 U.S. 19 N. Of the 239 units the Pinellas Park developer planned to build, 44 were to be workforce housing, typically meant for middle-income workers such as teachers, police officers, firefighters and health care workers.

Last week’s City Council meeting was held at the Performing Arts Center to ensure social distancing. Residents, who were required to wear masks, sat in socially distanced chairs in the center’s main room and also gathered in another of its spaces, at City Hall and online.

Opponents showed slides that included drone footage of clogged traffic along U.S. 19. They spoke of being smothered by increased density. They said they fear that their infrastructure, such as sewers, roads and utilities, may be inadequate to handle additional development. They have environmental concerns and worry about crowded supermarkets.

Residents of the Mainlands, the Lakes, another 55-plus community, and surrounding mobile home parks were among those who disagreed with the latest multifamily development.

“Enough is enough,” Sands said, adding that 1,743 apartments are either complete or under construction within a mile of their neighborhoods.

The Calvary Chapel site includes wetlands, raising another area of concern for opponents.

“We do not have any endangered habitat in those wetlands,” Yepes said during an interview. “It’s very low quality. We will be mitigating it in the same basin.”

His project would generate about $1.2 million in property taxes, he told the City Council. “We will pay our fair share,” he said.

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Residents, though, worry about the effect of rampant development and the cost of new schools, teachers, emergency and law enforcement personnel and vehicles and other crucial needs.

Traffic is a major concern. The Mainlands, whose main entry is off U.S. 19, installed a gate at its 40th Street entrance a few months ago to prevent cut-through traffic on its private roads.

“The facts are, traffic will not be the problem once the DOT Gateway connector project is done, which will be completed in late 2022 or early 2023,” Yepes said, referring to the expressway being counted on to relieve congestion on U.S. 19. “They are talking about too many people coming to Pinellas Park, but that is what they had always wanted.”

His company applied for a zoning change to increase the number of units at the Calvary site. That change, said Yepes, would have allowed him to add the 44 workforce apartments. As it is, he may yet seek approval for 227 units under current zoning.

“We are retooling the project. The option is to build a charter school, which is allowed. If we build a charter school, the traffic will be many times higher,” Yepes said. “One way or the other, the property will be developed.”