LARGO — Residents have won their battle to stop a 231-unit apartment complex from being built near Largo Central Park along Eighth Avenue Southeast.
But if their goal was to stop a development that creates traffic, the developer says they may have lost the war.
Carlos Yepes of Belleair Development Group confirmed recently to Tampa Bay Newspapers that he was ending his bid to build a $60 million to $70 million multifamily complex at 800 Eighth Ave. SE adjacent to Largo Middle School.
On Oct. 5, city commissioners voted 4-3 to reject a development agreement with the Pinellas Park developer after dozens of neighbors of the project pleaded to halt the development, citing compatibility, traffic and safety concerns.
The project would have required a land-use change from industrial to residential, but BDG representatives cited a study from the Institute of Traffic Engineers that showed an apartment complex actually would have created less traffic than other industrial uses.
Which is now what BDG will be constructing, Yepes said.
“At this time we are going forward with an industrial freight terminal, as the residents did not understand that industrial actually brings more traffic,” he wrote in an email to TBN. “We are closing on the property in December and will be filing plans to build it in the near future, which does not require any public hearings, as we will develop it under the current code.”
Alicia Parinello, Planning Division manager for the city, said BDG has not made its intentions known yet to the city.
But if the proposal was an allowed use under the Industrial Limited category the property is zoned for, then it would go through the city’s standard site plan review process with the Development Review Committee.
“There would be a Neighborhood Information Meeting requirement, and then they go into final site plan review to be issued a Development Order,” she said. “Site plan review is conducted administratively at the city, and does not require a public hearing.”
However, there are some uses like a truck terminal that could still require a conditional-use approval from the city’s Planning Board.
City commissioners were divided about the housing project. While they all agreed that housing is essential for the county and city, four of them did not like the location, sympathizing with residents who told stories of traffic jams and close calls along the two lanes of Eighth Avenue Southeast and Donegan Road.
“I cannot get past and I can’t be convinced that that roadway and that area down there is going to support this kind of traffic,” Commissioner John Carroll said.
However, Yepes had said denying the project would leave him no choice but to build an industrial site on the property that could create more traffic than the apartments, which are sorely needed.
Yepes told TBN it was “unfortunate” that his firm couldn’t help address the need for housing in Pinellas County.
“We thought it would be more (compatible) than developing it with industrial,” he said. “The apartments would have generated a lot less traffic, as traffic was the major complaint.”
Mayor Woody Brown urged BDG to revisit the plan with a smaller-scale housing project that he said fit into the area better.
However, Yepes said such a plan did not make financial sense.
“The numbers do not work and on top of that we had to commit to have 30% of the units affordable, which makes it more difficult,” he wrote. “We are designing the terminal now and hopefully the residents understand that they missed the opportunity to have some control of what was going to be developed. Now all options are open.”