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Debate sways housing critics

After Ric Goss persuades merchants to accept affordable housing, the city agrees to ask Goss to accept a man's plans for a big garage.

By MICHAEL SANDLER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 2002

After Ric Goss persuades merchants to accept affordable housing, the city agrees to ask Goss to accept a man's plans for a big garage.

LARGO -- An endorsement from a local merchants association may bring hundreds of new affordable apartments to Largo.

But perhaps the most unexpected decision at Tuesday night's work session is likely to bring joy to just one homeowner.

At the end of the work session, Largo commissioners agreed they should ask Ric Goss, the city's community development director, to drop an appeal seeking to stop Ed Kubiak from building a garage nearly as big as his home.

It came on a night when Goss stood up for Largo's working class community by pushing a plan that would bring more affordable housing to the Clearwater-Largo Road redevelopment zone.

Representatives from the area merchants association had hoped the City Commission might be able to set a standard for their growing community along the major commercial road.

But it took only a few seconds for Goss to remind them of Largo's roots.

"How do you sustain business? You've got to have people," Goss said. "Low to moderate income is Largo. If you are saying you don't want low income, you don't want Largo."

That appeared to be enough to quell concerns from the Clearwater-Largo Road Merchants Association.

The group threw support behind the city's plan to draw more people to the area by increasing the density restrictions to as many as 24 units per acre in some parts.

Those changes, which could be approved by December, would clear the path for more affordable housing north of Fourth Ave NW and south of Belleair Road.

Representatives Ron Bortolini and Leon Floyd had supplied Goss with some recommendations, including a provision that would require the new residents to be homeowners, not renters.

Goss told them that would be a fair housing violation.

Floyd said they were concerned about the unknown they faced with so many new people.

"Will they be quality people?" Floyd asked. "Will it be quality housing? This is an opportunity to change it and make something really good for Largo."

Goss reminded them of Largo's economic makeup and said that the changes would improve an area the city has characterized as being blighted by weekly rental mobile home parks.

"Keep in mind: If you want to attract homeowners, you have to create an environment that's attractive," Goss said.

Minutes after Goss left the chambers, Mayor Bob Jackson raised the recent appeal of Kubiak's proposed garage.

Goss initially denied Kubiak's plan for a 1,440-square-foot, detached garage to be built next to his 1,600-square-foot home on Hillsdale Ave.

But when Kubiak went before the city's planning board this month and told them of four others in his neighborhood, the board unanimously approved his plan.

Two weeks later, Kubiak received notice that Goss was going to appeal the decision to the commission in November. Kubiak said he had already spent $1,000 and had submitted plans to the city.

"Is it okay that I ask Ric to drop it?" Jackson asked the commissioners after a lengthy discussion on the subject.

They said yes.

"I think it's a kick in the teeth to ask people to come back," Commissioner Marty Shelby said.

-- Michael Sandler can be reached at 445-4174 or .

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