LARGO – After asking how the current property owners are continuing to help residents of the Briarwood RV Park relocate, the Largo Commission approved another step in the development of the land into a 260-unit apartment complex Sept. 17.
The approved ordinance changes the land use designation of the property at 2098 Seminole Blvd. from its low-density residential classification to “residential high.” The designation was needed before Largo-based Dockside Investors can begin construction on the property, hopefully by March or April, said company representatives.
Development of the Briarwood property has been in the works for about a year. Aside from concerns that the complex would cause extra traffic on Seminole Boulevard and be obtrusive to its neighbors, the development of the forested RV park has been delayed several times due to difficulties in relocating its current residents. The property itself was classified as a camping ground, not a mobile home park, but – largely due to its former absentee landowner – the tenants who rented plots month to month described themselves as permanent residents. Many of their RVs are rundown or have additions constructed that make them hard, if not impossible, to move.
Lawyers at Gulfcoast Legal Services offered to help represent residents and succeeded in slowing down the process of development and bringing awareness of the residents’ hardships to leaders at the city and county level. County commissioners delayed their approval of the land use designation change in July, requesting the property owners help residents relocate. Dockside Investors agreed, setting aside $30,000 into a relocation fund and contracting with Community Services Foundation to help them in the process. The county approved the reclassification Aug. 6, which sent the issue back to Largo commissioners.
Tina Harper, Briarwood’s property manager, told the city commissioners that the remaining families were being helped with a variety of ongoing issues. Of the 15 families that remain in the park, seven were scheduled to move by the end of September, she said.
“There’s no one reason why some of these people still remain,” Harper said, offering the example of one resident who planned to stay until the last minute before he moved to New York. “But most everybody is finding some place to go, finding apartments. It’s progress every single day.”
Dockside hopes to help the rest find resolution before the park closes Nov. 1.
“The eight (remaining) families will definitely be taken care of Nov. 1, to the extent that they cooperate,” said attorney Ed Armstrong, representing Dockside. “We can’t force anything. They will continue to have every opportunity to relocate successfully.”
Per additional commission approval, the city will be amending the developer’s agreement to remove a provision that requires the apartments on the property to be rented at market rates.
“The city received a threat that there would be a Fair Housing Act complaint filed,” City Attorney Alan Zimmet explained. “Rather than fight the battle, administration decided that they were comfortable with this applicant, that we knew what the plans were at this point, and we could go forward without that.”
Dockside assured the commission that they had no intention to build anything but market-rate apartments, even without the provision.
Commissioners unanimously agreed to both the ordinance and the pending change to the developer’s agreement. After staff prepares the amendment, it will be approved in two public hearings, scheduled for commission meetings on Thursdays, Oct. 1 and 15, 6 p.m. at Largo City Hall, 201 Highland Ave.
City concludes pension negotiations
Also during the Sept. 17 meeting, commissioners unanimously agreed to changes to the pension plan, negotiated with city’s fire and police unions over the last year.
The changes include a phased increase in the employee payroll contribution rate from 5 percent to 8 percent over the next three years and reduced benefits for new hires. It also allows the use of all premium tax revenue to fund basic plan costs until funding benchmarks are achieved. After that, the revenue will continue to be added to the employees’ SHARE accounts.
Commissioner Robert Murray said he agreed that the change was necessary to keep the city’s pension plan going “forever.”
“I think this is a step in the right direction in order to make it sustainable,” he said. “It’s very important we’re taking this step.”
The Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association membership ratified the changes with a vote of 90-10. The International Association of Firefighters Local 2427 will be voting on this issue in the next two weeks.
If approved by both unions, the city is set to save $536,000 in the upcoming budget year, an amount already accounted for in the budget that was set for final approval Sept. 18.