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Groups oppose affordable housing

In an attempt to prevent developers from building apartments, residents begin a letter-writing campaign asking the state for help.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 12, 2002


SPRING HILL -- Jean Marin has heard all the explanations why Hernando County can do little to stop affordable apartments from rising near her Seven Hills home, and her neighbors' lament that the fix is in.

She'll have none of that naysaying.

"I'm of a mind that, when they turn over the first shovel of dirt, then it's a done deal," Marin said Friday, in between phone calls to form a residents' action committee. "Until then, I will fight with every breath I've got."

In just a few hours, Marin established a "nice little committee" that she expected to grow as word of its existence spreads. Earlier in the week, she penned a formatted letter for people with concerns about the apartments to send to Gov. Jeb Bush.

"Snobbery is not the basis for opposition to the affordable housing complexes," the letter states. "We know our county's track record and, for lack of a better word, it STINKS. Please help us to avoid further miscalculations and blunders due to a lack of adequate planning and foresight on the part of county departments, attorneys and commissioners."

The state Department of Community Affairs, where Bush's staff forwards such items, reported receiving more than 20 e-mails about the proposed Springhaven Apartments at Seven Hills.

So far, the department has taken no position on the apartments, said Bob Cambric, community and citizen liaison. He planned to research the issue and get each correspondent as much information as is available.

"Oftentimes with affordable housing, the term these days is used so broadly," Cambric said. "We want to make sure people have a clear understanding of what is affordable housing. Everybody is entitled to affordable housing."

Without full information, he said, it is premature to say what if anything the state agency can do for the people with concerns.

Marin said she got the idea to contact state officials after learning that Pasco County residents had fought successfully against an affordable housing complex last year.

She expected to meet with state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-Port Richey, to seek his help.

Perhaps the state can stop funding for the Seven Hills project, too, she suggested.

Residents at the neighboring Wellington subdivision have joined the letter-writing campaign, and set up an action committee of their own. They also have hired a lawyer.

"We want to see if we have a legal basis to stop this," organizer Anne Hammond said. "We would rather get an opinion and be told yes or no than do nothing at all."

She stressed that the group's concerns center more on safety issues such as traffic congestion and water availability than on the type of apartments proposed. "We're going to see what we can do."

Silverthorn residents are continuing to study their options for stopping the Barclay Forge affordable apartments from going up across the street from their subdivision entrance, too, homeowners association president Bob Mackey said.

They have not gone the letter-writing route, though. Instead, they are focusing on how to participate effectively in state public hearings on the bonds developer Davis Heritage is seeking from the state. State Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, called for the hearings earlier this spring.

"We're waiting to see what's going on," Mackey said.

Some also look to the County Commission, which has asked its planning and legal staff to study whether the property in question might be rezoned before Davis Heritage submits site plans and other construction permit requests.

That discussion is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

"There are still a lot of people that believe only one of these three projects . . . will ever be built," Mackey said. "And the jury is still out as to which one it will be."

A third group at Regency Oaks, meanwhile, has started to meet with commission Chairwoman Nancy Robinson and developer Sandspur Housing to discuss issues related to the proposed Bridgewater Apartment complex. The main issue there is traffic.

"The communities are taking a proactive role in working with developers. That is a very positive thing," Robinson said.

As the neighborhoods work on their projects, she continued, the commission is trying to make some changes to ensure at the very least that the apartments, if built, will meet maintenance standards into the future.

Robinson said she also is working with county Housing Authority leaders to "encourage if not mandate" affordable housing developers to explain their projects to the surrounding communities in the future, if they want locally supported bonds.

"It's something you'd expect (developers) to do if they're building a large development. But it didn't happen," Robinson said. "So government has got to step in."

-- Jeffrey S. Solochek covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to solochek@sptimes.com.

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