Homeowners living near Grace Connection Church (635 64th St. South) jammed the church sanctuary to loudly oppose the church’s sale of five acres and all of its buildings to the City of St. Petersburg which would develop the property into “affordable housing.”
The church says the congregation entered into a contract with the city to sell the property for $1.75 million. The city has not yet signed and has nine months to complete the deal or walk away. City Council is set to consider the contract and approve the deal on May 16th.
The city’s Neighborhood Affairs Office described the plan to build just under 100 units that could be home to around 400 people. The plan under consideration would be two to four stories tall and might be a “55 and over” community but that is not a certainty, the city said.
The proposal that will eventually go to the City Council would include housing that would be leased to people who can’t afford housing in a hot real estate market like Pinellas County. The purchase would be financed by the “Penny for Pinellas” tax that requires half of the housing it builds to be available for people whose income does not exceed 60% of AMI. The area median income (AMI) is a statistic generated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for purposes of determining the eligibility of applicants for certain federal housing programs. Another 25% could be leased to people with up to 80% AMI and up to 10 percent of the units could be leased for the full market value of the property.
So far, no other property owner has tapped into the $15 million Penny for Pinellas fund that the city set aside just for affordable housing.
Robert Gerdes, the city’s Neighborhood Affair Administrator said there is a huge need for affordable housing in St. Pete. Some studies have found that by 2040 the city of St. Pete will have to build 2,500 new affordable units to house low-income residents. Recent news reports say , “Over the past six years the average rent in Pinellas County has increased by 46% to $1,000 a month. As of June 2018, in St. Pete nearly 800 families have affordable housing vouchers but no place to move into.”
“The geographic characteristics of the property make it a good candidate for rezoning to multifamily and the fact that it’s such a strong neighborhood already we feel it can absorb a multi-family project without any adverse impacts,” he said. Neighbors disagreed saying the planned development would create traffic problems and harm property values.
The church pastor, Tim Kelly, told the gathering that his congregation cannot afford the property. “There are 130 people in this church now,” he said. “We have 37-thousand square feet of space and we only need 10-thousand square feet.” Kelly said the church has spent a quarter of a million dollars repairing the property in the six years it has owned the buildings and needs to spend another quarter of a million dollars if the congregation decided to stay. “The property is bankrupting us,” he said and “we could use that money in other ways to do the ministry of a church.” He said the church spoke with six other congregations who were interested in buying the property but, “The city is the only one that came to us with a legitimate offer,” he said. “The city has not been forceful,” he said. “We voted to sell the property.”
City planners told the meeting that the triangular shape of the property made it “a candidate for rezoning” to accommodate the housing project. He said the shape of the five-acre tract makes it unappealing to single-family home developers. The city also says that the mobile home park adjacent to the church property also makes it more likely that rezoning might make sense. The city said it has no plans to purchase more land to go along with the church property partly because, starting at 7th Avenue South, the area falls outside of the City of St. Petersburg boundary.
The city also says that it considers 64th Street South to be a “collector” road which feeds larger streets like 1st Avenue South and Central Avenue, so traffic is not a major concern, although local homeowners at the meeting loudly disagreed with that. The city said it would not anticipate widening 64th Street South.
The project has several hurdles to clear before it becomes a reality. The St. Petersburg City Council will hold hearings on the proposal and homeowners promised to crowd the city hall chambers in opposition. If the city approves of the idea, then the city would seek proposals from developers to determine what the project would look like and hone in on details including whether it would be a “55-plus” project aimed at seniors or whether it would be open to all ages and families.
The PGCECG Board has no official position on this matter (yet) but if there is anyone that would like to be involved and form an exploratory committee and attend all meetings, please let us know.