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Sale of St. Pete’s Grace Connection Church hits another stumbling block

Neighbors object to the affordable housing project they say is incompatible with their community.
Grace Connection Church, at 635 64th St. S in St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Grace Connection Church, at 635 64th St. S in St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG — Grace Connection Church, which has encountered fierce neighborhood opposition as it attempts to sell its property – first to the city and then to a developer – for affordable housing, lost another round Tuesday.

The city’s Community Planning and Preservation Commission rejected a request for rezoning that would have allowed prospective buyer Blue Sky Communities of Tampa to build a 55-plus, four-story development with about 85 units in a community near Bear Creek.

Neighbors of the church at 635 64th St. S made impassioned pleas for the commission to reject the application, citing the project’s height, density and potential to increase traffic and crime in their quiet, family-centered community.

Related: St. Petersburg's plan for affordable housing in a mostly single-family neighborhood angers residents

Scott Macdonald, executive vice president of Blue Sky Communities, said the firm plans to appeal the commission’s decision to the City Council in March. A supermajority vote would be required to reverse the commission’s decision.

The development is for “retired folks who are on a pension or Social Security, veterans,” Macdonald said after the meeting. “That’s why it’s so tough to hear that crime rates are going to go up. These are grandmas and grandpas who just need a safe place to live.”

Pastor Tim Kelley of Grace Connection Church, which has been trying to sell the property for more than two years, told commissioners that his congregation is struggling financially to maintain the almost 5-acre site.

Last year, the outcry of neighbors caused the church to pull out of a deal to sell the property to the city, which had hoped to build a multistory development with about 86 affordable and workforce housing units. Money for the property was to come from $15 million in Penny for Pinellas funds earmarked for land acquisition for affordable housing. The city said it planned to lease the church property to a developer to build and manage the project.

Related: St. Petersburg church's change of heart kills affordable housing deal

Kelley said he canceled the contract with the city when he received an offer from another congregation. That fell through. “So we are still stuck with the property," he said. "We need to sell the property and move on.”

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