ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A lumber yard on Fairfield Avenue could soon transform into an affordable housing development that might become a case study for developers across the state.
Thursday, St. Petersburg City Council is set to approve the site plan for the development, which calls for 264 affordable apartments divided between three buildings. The roughly seven-acre site — currently occupied by Tibbetts Lumber — is bordered by the Fairfield Ave. S to the north and the Pinellas Trail to the south. 34th St. S and 31st St. S form the western and eastern boundaries, respectively.
The HP Capital Group, the developer for the site, said 100% of the units will be priced as affordable, workforce housing.
According to documents, the majority of the apartments will be at 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI) and affordable to a family of three that makes around $80,000 a year. Other units will be priced for families making 80% and 50% of the AMI.
“We’ve been jokingly calling it a unicorn in a sense that it checks every box from everybody’s perspective,” Angelo Cappelli, one of the developers, said of the project.
According to Cappelli and the development team, residents will have easy access to the Pinellas Trail, public transportation, grocery stores, schools, parks, and nearby employers.
“If everything goes correctly, we should be able to start renting apartments in 2024 – early ‘24,” Cappelli added.
Cappelli and the other developers said the project is unique and it might be the first in the state to use a law passed by the legislature in 2020 that streamlines the sometimes-complicated process of converting industrial sites into affordable housing.
House Bill 1339, which was signed by the governor in Jun. 2020, allows municipal governments “to approve development of affordable housing on any parcel zoned for residential, commercial, or industrial use.”
“I think this is the first project that is going to be approved — or potentially approved — under that new law,” said Fred Hemmer, one of the project’s developers.
“Our hope is that this is successful and that we can replicate it not just here in the Bay area but elsewhere in the state of Florida,” added Nick Hanse, another developer.
As St. Pete struggles to meeting an overwhelming demand for affordable housing in the face of a housing crisis, City Council Chair Gina Driscoll — who described the project as a "pioneer" — has the same hope.
“I’m excited that this will be our first go at changing that zoning and making sure that we are giving a new look or new thought to industrialized zoning in St. Petersburg and how we can modernize that to meet today’s needs,” she said.
“I think there will be other builders who will look at this as a fresh opportunity to, you know, build something new and be part of the solution, so I’m already looking out to see who’s next,” Driscoll continued.
Driscoll said the council will have the chance to ask questions and vet the project during the Thursday meeting but is “confident” council members will approve it.
If the project is approved, developers expect to break ground later this year.
As for Tibbetts Lumber, documents attached to the Thursday agenda indicate the longtime company plans to relocate to Largo.