Affordable housing plan needs fresh start
By Times editorial
Published April 6, 2007
An investment of $3.4-million has so far bought Pinellas County only mountains of dirt and a lot of excuses, not the 200 new townhomes the county wanted built in the Greater Ridgecrest area west of Largo.
After millions of dollars and more than two years of waiting, enough is enough. County commissioners are right to give the developers a firm deadline of two weeks and then move to foreclose.
The millions the county loaned to Nick Kotaiche and George T. Farrell allowed them to purchase 18.5 acres at Trotter Road and 134th Avenue in an unincorporated area just north of Ulmerton Road and just west of the Rainbow Village public housing community.
The land, formerly owned by Terra Excavating, was a construction dump for years. Kotaiche, an official with Terra Excavating, and Farrell of Milmarson Development promised to transform the eyesore into a gated townhome community with 200 units, 40 of which would be reserved for those whose income qualifies them for affordable housing.
The agreement with Kotaiche and Farrell was one of Pinellas County's first efforts to provide more affordable housing for people who are being priced out of Pinellas County's real estate and rental apartment markets. The $3.4-million came from state affordable housing funds funneled to the county. The agreement called for work to begin on the project in June 2005.
It never did.
There were some enticing signs along the way that the project would be built. The would-be developers asked for and received a land use change and density bonus to permit them to build more units than otherwise allowed in that area - a density approved over neighborhood opposition that ought to be reviewed now. The developers also announced they would call the project Milmarson Place, and they put up a sign showing a lovely community with a lake and dog park. A preliminary site plan was submitted to the county.
However, a third partner initially involved in the project dropped out. The housing market in Pinellas began to slump. And Farrell and Kotaiche never were able to get the bank financing needed to build the $30-million complex.
Though the promise of Milmarson Place has evaporated, Pinellas County officials say they have not given up on the idea of affordable housing there. Officials say they will move to foreclose if nothing happens within the next two weeks, and they will either seek another developer for the site or sell the land.
It is unfortunate that the property, which is troublesome because of the debris dumped there for decades, will wind up being owned by the county and its taxpayers. However, the location is ideal for affordable units, and in another day and with different developers, that promise may yet be realized.
[Last modified April 5, 2007, 23:44:09]
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