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Apartments for limited incomes raise a stir

Neighboring subdivisions have organized to fight a plan for 270 units, even before the developer has submitted plans.

By ED QUIOCO

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


OLDSMAR -- A Tampa developer said Thursday that it intends to propose building a $22-million apartment complex for low- to moderate-income tenants on a vacant tract surrounded by recently built subdivisions.

Although the Wilson Co. has yet to submit plans for the 270-unit development to the city, residents of neighboring subdivisions have already organized to fight the proposal.

"(The developer) is getting opposition, I'm sure, until the day we die because no one wants it back there," said Jeanne Knight, 36, who lives in the Preserve at Cypress Lakes subdivision.

The Wilson Co. plans to purchase 27 acres on the east side of Forest Lakes Boulevard from the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. The complex would be called the Westminster.

The site plan soon will be submitted to city officials for review, said Wilson Co. senior vice president Chris Bowers. Bowers said he, too, has received calls from residents worried that the proposed complex would increase crime and lower property values.

"(The tenants of the proposed complex) are not any different than the people who live around them, except they may not have as high an income," Bowers said. "But they have just as much right to be there as anyone."

The proposed complex, he said, would have little effect on the neighboring subdivisions, which have some homes valued at $200,000 and up. The proposed complex would be surrounded by wetland barriers and would be 200 feet from the nearest home.

But that's little comfort to some.

Residents are planning to attend a City Council meeting Tuesday to voice their fears. They have have distributed fliers, collected petitions with hundreds of signatures and organized a 20-member committee to look into several concerns.

Knight said residents were "shell-shocked" to find out that an apartment complex might be built on the tract.

She said she opposes the project not because it would draw low-income tenants but because the complex would have too many units "crammed on top of each other on a parcel we thought was going to be a preserve."

She worried how the city's elementary schools would accommodate the influx of children.

"It just doesn't fit," she said.

The Wilson Co. participates in a program through Florida Housing Finance Corp., which offers federal tax credits and low-interest financing to developers who agree to build apartments for low- to moderate-income tenants.

The company plans to get $6-million in federal tax credits for the project. The rest of the development will be funded with low-interest bonds.

In return, the developer has to provide lower rent to qualified residents. Tenants would have to make less than $28,500 a year, which is 60 percent of Pinellas County's median income, to qualify. They also would need to have good credit and would have to pass a criminal background check.

The company, which would manage the complex, plans to charge about $500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, $600 for a two-bedroom apartment and $700 for a three-bedroom apartment. The complex also would have amenities such as a swimming pool, an exercise room and a volleyball court.

Bowers said he is willing to meet with residents of neighboring subdivisions to discuss their concerns, and the company will do what it can to allay their fears.

"We will be good neighbors and we will keep it very well maintained," Bowers said.

The company has several high-profile projects under its belt, including the New York Yankees' spring training complex in Tampa and the 11-story Bayport Plaza and neighboring Hyatt Regency Westshore Hotel on the Courtney Campbell Parkway.

The company also has built throughout the state 26 projects similar to the one proposed in Oldsmar. The Westminster development would look similar to the Wellington complex in Clearwater.

The tract in Oldsmar is zoned for up to 10 residences per acre, said Nick Staszko, the city's community development director. The city already has received more than 20 calls during the past week from residents about the project.

But since city officials have not seen the development site plans, there is little they can say to residents.

"All I have is a lot of angry residents telling me what this project will look like," Staszko said. "I don't have anything to react to. We will just have to wait and see."

- Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or at quioco@sptimes.com.

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