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Petition on apartments may prove to be futile

By ED QUIOCO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

OLDSMAR -- A group of neighbors fighting the planned Westminster apartment complex nearly has the signatures it needs to schedule a citywide referendum asking voters to repeal an ordinance that helped the controversial project.

There's just one problem.

Even if the referendum were held, its results would have no effect on the complex, according to attorneys for Pinellas County, the city and the developer.

"This is a complete and total waste of time, effort and money," said Wilson Co. attorney Tim Johnson. "It won't have any impact whatsoever on this project."

The group disagrees.

"We have fundamental rights, and they just can't ignore those rights," said Karen Manning, secretary of the Oldsmar Community Alliance, a neighborhood group formed to oppose the project.

City Clerk Lisa Lene notified the group on Feb. 20 that they were 173 signatures short of the 1,308 needed to schedule the referendum. The effort's leaders have been using a 10-day extension given to them by city statutes to get additional signatures.

The complex for low- and moderate-income tenants is under construction on Forest Lakes Boulevard after a yearlong fight between the city, residents and the developer. Rather than face a multimillion-dollar housing discrimination lawsuit, city officials agreed in November to a settlement agreement with the developer.

The agreement has two paragraphs that established for the Wilson Co. an "affordable housing density bonus." The bonus allows the company to build 270 units on the 27-acre property in return for building affordable housing.

Opponents say county land development rules prohibit that many units on the property.

Michael Lucas, president of the Oldsmar Community Alliance, said the group believes that if the project gets built, it should have about 200 units -- not 270.

As part of the settlement, city officials agreed to adopt an ordinance that created an affordable housing density bonus plan specifically for the project. After that was done, the company pulled city building permits for the complex.

If the group can get enough signatures, council members have the option of repealing the ordinance that created the density bonus. If the council doesn't repeal it, then the issue goes to voters.

City Attorney Tom Trask said even if the group succeeds in repealing the ordinance, there is another provision that creates a density bonus plan for the project.

The only effect the petition will have, Trask said, is to make the city pay for a referendum.

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