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St. Petersburg council can’t reconsider $19.1 million Deuces townhomes

City Council chairperson Deborah Figgs-Sanders wanted to make the motion but it’s too late.
 
St. Petersburg City Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders during a council meeting at City Hall on Dec. 14, 2023.
St. Petersburg City Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders during a council meeting at City Hall on Dec. 14, 2023. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Feb. 9|Updated Feb. 9

It’s too late for the St. Petersburg City Council to reverse a decision to spend $19.1 million building 24 townhomes on 22nd Street South.

Council chairperson Deborah Figgs-Sanders told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday that she inquired with the city’s attorneys about how to go about reconsidering a vote. She said she was told that had to happen during the meeting when the vote took place on Jan. 18, or at the next regularly scheduled meeting, which was Feb. 1.

“That ship has sailed,” said Figgs-Sanders, who declined to elaborate on why she wanted to reconsider the plan.

Related: St. Petersburg to build 24 subsidized townhomes in $19 million project

Only a City Council member who voted in favor has the power to seek a new vote. The plan called for building the townhomes and selling them to families making 80% to 120% of the area median income. It passed by a 5-2 vote, with even some of those in favor expressing discomfort with the nearly $500,000-a-home subsidy.

Figgs-Sanders voted yes, along with Copley Gerdes, Gina Driscoll, Lisset Hanewicz and John Muhammad. Council members Ed Montanari and Richie Floyd voted no, and Brandi Gabbard was absent.

Local activist and publisher Gypsy Gallardo wrote a letter dated Jan. 29 to Mayor Ken Welch and council members asking for the plan to be reconsidered. That gave council members three days to call for a new vote, but none took place.

Related: Deuces booster to St. Petersburg: Reconsider ‘exorbitant’ townhomes

Gallardo is part of the Sankofa Vision Group, a coalition of Black organizations and leaders who have had an agreement with the city since April 2021 to co-develop a commercial space to complement the townhomes. They are part of an overall effort to breathe new life into the Deuces, once the business and cultural heart of the city’s Black community.

“I’m grateful to Chair Figgs-Sanders for her follow through, and to the administration for reaching out to meet with the Sankofa Group next week,” Gallardo wrote Thursday evening in a text to the Times.

Gallardo wrote in her letter that it was her hope that the council reconsider the project, not only for its “exorbitant” cost, but also for the project to be rethought and redesigned. More recent conversations included building 80 affordable rental units on the land along Fairfield Avenue South.

She also said her group, which had spent years putting together a plan with community consensus, was in the dark and not aware of the plan going before the council for approval.

“Had they been, they might have offered a different take,” Gallardo wrote.

Mayor Ken Welch told the Times on Friday that the city could have scrapped the project and put it back out to bid, but didn’t want to go back on the city’s commitment with Sankofa and the community.

“It’s a large subsidy and nothing that we would want to replicate, but there’s been such an investment there, such a promise, I don’t see us heading backwards from that,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to accurately describe conversations regarding a proposal for 80 affordable rental units.