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Affordable senior complex planned in Tarpon

Published:   |   Updated: May 16, 2013 at 07:38 PM

City commissioners have taken another step toward clearing the way for a new affordable senior living development.

Santos Isle Apartments is envisioned as a three-level, 50-unit complex for residents 55-and-up located at the northwest corner of Safford Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Commissioners approved development firm the Richmond Group of Florida's site plan at their Aug. 7 meeting by a unanimous 5-0 vote. On Tuesday, the second reading of a related ordinance was passed that allows for the vacating of a portion of an adjacent alley on the development's future site.

Along with the 50 units and 61 associated parking spaces on the 2.08-acre site, the L-shaped complex's design also has a swimming pool and clubhouse at its center.

In terms of affordability, Damon Cole, a representative with the development firm, said it was too early to give detailed price information.

He did say, however, that income ranges for similar senior developments are dictated by the state. On the Suncoast, those tend to range anywhere from $25,000 to $35,000, with rents anywhere from $650 to $750, including utilities.

In response to a question from Commissioner Townsend Tarapani, Cole said the project is required to remain an affordable senior living facility for at least 50 years. That's because the developer is receiving state tax credits intended to spur construction of housing for low-income seniors.

One aspect of the project that enjoyed unanimous approval during discussion was its walkability. Santos Isle's location puts it right on the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail and only about a third of a mile from Tarpon Avenue and downtown.

"It's a walkable project just by the nature of its location," said Planning and Zoning Director Renea Vincent. "This is something that hopefully will really start to transform that area of the city and lay the groundwork for bigger projects later on."

During last month's presentation, Vincent addressed certain questions and issues that were raised by the city's Planning and Zoning Board. One of these — the height, size and accessibility of the structure — was brought up during public comment by former City Commissioner Peter Dalacos, a Planning and Zoning Board member. He expressed trepidation about how the project will obstruct the open nature of the area.

"What we've envisioned for Safford and that whole area is openness and you're basically creating a walled fortress on that corner," he said.

In response to the Planning and Zoning Board's questions submitted to Richmond Group executives in July, the developer submitted a revised site plan that included an additional pedestrian entrance at the corner of the building at Safford Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and a pedestrian access on Oakwood Street just to the north.

Mayor David Archie and Commissioner Susan Slattery both said during the August meeting that the project offers a much-needed aesthetic improvement to the area.

"To me, that's one of our gateways to the community and what's on the property now — I don't know how to put it nicely — is an eyesore," Slattery said. "This would definitely an improvement to the area and we do need senior living."

Santos Isle Apartments was originally envisioned to be built on two parcels: the proposed site and a 1.32-acre plot on the adjacent south side of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

The current site plan included a transfer of density from the south parcel to the northern one. For zoning purposes, Vincent said that means the southern parcel cannot be developed residentially but has room for more than 90,000 square feet of potential office space.