New homes for injured veterans part of community redevelopment in St. Pete

12/19/12 Janelle Irwin
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A wounded military veteran broke ground on what will be his new home today in St. Petersburg. The house is being paid for through a collaborative of charities, but is part of a greater effort to rehabilitate the city’s troubled Midtown area. Brian Lamb, president of the non-profit Community Partners in Revitalization said the project will help drive property values up in the neighborhood.

“Within that, there’s a huge economic advantage to coming into neighborhoods, recognizing – or better yet, remembering the beauty that was once here and highlighting that and extenuating it with not only newer construction, but also bringing attention back to the neighborhoods.”

The property on 12th Avenue South in the Melrose neighborhood is one of two new construction projects planned on that block. Both are being built through the Texas-based charity Operation Finally Home. The city of St. Petersburg handed over the two plots of land for the group to build new homes for injured veterans. Karl Nurse is the city council member who represents the neighborhood.

“And then we’re trying to use this to attract the private sector to redevelop as well and we’re going to do some incentives to allow rebates to people who do real renovations to encourage good renovation instead of spray paint. So, you do these things collectively and you can begin to create some momentum and that’s really the battle. If you can get it started and get it rolling, than it’ll take care of itself after that.”

Private First Class Stephen Petersen is a 22-year-old veteran who served in Afghanistan. He found out earlier this year that he qualified for the new home program because he was severely injured during his tour of duty. He’ll be moving into his new home when it’s finished in early April.

“I was injured by a roadside bomb, an IED. I lost my leg above the knee, fractured both hips, broke my tail bone and PTSD and … but, I’ve over looked all that. My mental strength is really positive, so …”

Petersen shook back tears while listening to project organizers talk about the project that would soon be his home. Former Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica who heads the Gramatica Family Foundation, helped get the veteran home program started in the Tampa Bay area. Already the group has put one injured soldier into a new home. Gramatica said Petersen will be the second.

“It just made perfect sense, since we’re in the construction industry, building homes for people, we said let’s see if we can get something done in Tampa. But we never imagined that that conversation, in less than a year we’d have one completed, one breaking ground today literally and hopefully another one across the street from here shortly after and many more.”

Organizers with Operation Finally Home are raising funds to start construction on the property across the street and are also still looking for an eligible vet to live there. But in the neighborhood are another half dozen properties where the city of St. Petersburg will be building new homes. According to Council member Nurse a 2008 stimulus neighborhood stabilization program will pay to rebuild or renovate foreclosed and abandoned homes.

“We’ll build them for whatever they cost to build and then sell them for the appraised price which in this market is less than that, but it helps to stabilize neighborhoods and then we’ll also provide down payment assistance to folks.”

There are five homes for sale listed on St. Pete’s website and all are energy star rated. The veteran appreciation home that broke ground today is so energy efficient Joe Gibbons, secretary of the Community Partners in Revitalization program said there won’t be any energy costs.

“The attic will have a spray foam insulation and in addition to that, we are partnering with a solar manufacturer that’s going to provide solar panels. We’ve also partnered with GE that’s going to be a hybrid hot water system and all energy efficient appliances.”

Photovoltaic solar panels will capture energy for the home and builders expect the energy collected to equal or exceed the energy used. This house will be the first residence in St. Petersburg to be what experts call net zero. This home will still be on the energy grid though. Community Partners in Revitalization is working on separate property in Bellaire that will be completely off the utility grid. Gibbons, the group’s secretary, said that home is being built for a private owner.

“It’s a retired couple and this has kind of been their dream home – to build it – and it’s come to fruition. Right now all the mechanical, the electrical and plumbing is being installed. So, we expect to have that done probably in February – March.”

Earlier this month, St. Petersburg officials celebrated another net zero energy use property, a business office in the Grand Central District that is now home to the Florida Sierra Club.

Photos here

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