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Tarpon okays 'density bonus' for affordable housing

The city gives preliminary approval to support its commitment to building affordable units.

By ELENA LESLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published December 12, 2007


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TARPON SPRINGS - Dedicating space to affordable housing may soon earn developers permission to add more density to their projects.

Commissioners gave preliminary approval to the "density bonus" ordinance during a meeting last week. It will come back for a final reading Tuesday.

"Tarpon's ahead of the ball game on this one," said Pat Weber, executive director of the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority. "Many cities don't have these kinds of incentives."

Weber asked the commission in July to consider awarding density bonuses and waiving impact fees for affordable housing development. To illustrate the need, she cited a city waiting list for affordable housing that has more than 600 names.

Given the city's finances, City Manager Ellen Posivach said she doubted reduced or waived impact fees would be an option.

"This is not a time when cities are looking to decrease their revenues," said Commissioner Robin Saenger.

But she said Tarpon Springs was committed to providing more affordable housing.

"We want people who work in Tarpon to be able to live in Tarpon," Saenger said. Long commutes and disjointed communities "are just a less appealing way to live."

The city's ordinance is modelled on Pinellas County's and offers up to a 50 percent density bonus for projects composed of at least 20 percent affordable housing.

That means a developer planning a 100 unit development could upgrade to 150 units, Weber said. Income from the additional units helps offset the cost of those that are affordable.

The ordinance defines affordable housing units as owner-occupied housing available to households at 80 percent of the area's median income, or rental units affordable to households at 60 percent of area median income.

To illustrate, a family of four in Pinellas County at 80 percent median income would make $43,500 a year, Weber said.

Parking and setback restrictions can also be reduced depending on the circumstances, Mayor Beverley Billiris said.

The bonus will directly benefit several housing authority projects in the pipeline. Over the next five years, the authority plans to redevelop 70 of the city's 225 public housing units and build an additional 190 mixed-income affordable housing rentals.

With the density bonus, 36 units are planned for a development at Lime and Boyer streets, 44 for a Morgan Street project and 180 at Mango Circle.

She said she plans to recommend an architect to the board of commissioners by January and hopes construction can begin in the fall.

"The affordable housing crisis is getting worse," she said. "People are losing their homes left and right."

Elena Lesley can be reached at elesley@sptimes.com or 727 445-4167.

[Last modified December 11, 2007, 22:55:06]


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