Pinellas Commissioners reject affordable housing mandate
The Pinellas Board of County Commissioners today rejected their staffâ€™s recommendation and voted down an ordinance that would have required developers to build affordable housing. This went against a pledge that each commissioner had made to a large coalition of faith communities.
Father Joe Diaz, who is pastor of Holy Trinity Episcopal and a member of FAST -- Faith & Action for Strength Together -- called it â€œa huge disappointment.â€
â€œCommissioner Latvala, Seel, Duncan, and Stewart were the four who voted against it. There were two commissioners who were absent today [Morroni and Harris]. We asked for a postponement of the vote, since this is a thing we believe the whole board should have voted. They chose not to postpone and to an up or down on this today. â€¦ Not a happy day today. This is a really dark day for Pinellas County and by extension for the Tampa Bay area.â€
All seven commissioners had previously pledged to FAST that they would support this affordable housing plan, called the mandatory inclusionary zoning ordinance. But on Tuesday only one, Ken Welch, voted for it. Two commissioners were absent; Calvin Harris had a death in the family and John Morroni is undergoing testing for recently-diagnosed lymphoma.
Welch first suggested a delay in the vote until a later date when Harris and Morroni would be able to weigh in. Many FAST members recommended a delay, but it was voted down by the Commission. Later, Welch was the only one of the five commissioners present to support the mandatory inclusionary zoning ordinance.
"This is a long-term strategy. Weâ€™re seeing a decrease in the median housing price in the county. But even at the median housing price â€¦ housing is still out of reach for most of the folks that make our community work, even at $178,000 median price.â€
Welch said that home prices in the county are â€œstill locking out a majorityâ€ of residents. Under the plan that was rejected, developers of projects that included 20 or more units would have had to price up to 20 percent of units below market value. Developers would have been allowed to build at densities up to 50 percent more than allowed by zoning codes. It was unclear how much support the ordinance would have gotten from cities within Pinellas County. Six cities sent letters saying they would opt out of the plan if it passed.
County attorney Jim Bennett said he was concerned with the legal underpinnings of the ordinance.
Several people suggested that instead of a mandatory inclusionary zoning ordinance, the program be voluntary and fueled by incentives to the developers. Eleven people, most of them from the real estate and development business, voiced their objections to the ordinance, while 13 people, most of them from FAST, spoke in favor of it.
Robert Stewart, chair of the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners, said he opposes this ordinance during a housing slump.
But members of FAST, which is made up of 33 congregations and includes 50,000 people in Pinellas County, say that the difficult economic times are precisely why residents need an affordable housing ordinance.
Donna Davis is member of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in Clearwater and a board member of FAST. Davis called it a â€œvery disappointing day.â€
The County Commissioners said there is a need to address affordable housing and agreed to discuss strategies at future meetings, but a majority opposed mandatory requirements.
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