City of Homesteadf

City of Homestead

A six-member Homestead City Council resolved itself into the Board of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to consider two proposals to build on city land.

Centennial Management proposed to build a three-story, 83 unit senior citizen apartment house on the “Shotgun” properties at 866 SW 7th Street. The property is named for the small ‘shotgun’ style houses on the 4.16 acres when the land was purchased in 2006.

The CRA received two offers based on its August 2018 notice of intent to sell but the Homestead Housing Authority withdrew its proposal.

Spokesperson Elizabeth Roque-Swezy presented Centennial’s concept for an

attractive architectural design based on current complexes the company owns. The apartments would have high end appliances and cabinets, impact windows, washers and driers, complex amenities including a gym, even window treatments for each unit.

Tentatively named Lucy Landing, Council disliked the name. The yet-to-be-named site would include 124 parking spaces plus an out-parcel commercial building for limited retail, perhaps a pharmacy. Centennial plans included a small park to screen the L-shaped building from the street. 

Funding for the project was to be either SAIL program funding or through the County surtax program. The SAIL plan requires developments to be over 111 units so this would not qualify for the 9% competitive credit loan. Centennial had success with the County Surtax loan program for affordable housing and planned to seek that financing with its historic low interest rates.

The land has an appraised value of $450,000. Centennial offered to purchase it for $500,000, giving the City a buy-back option for the same price if the project does not go through.

Mayor Steven Losner asked the City Manager to check if the Shotgun property purchase price was borrowed from the General Fund and needed to be repaid or if proceeds from the CRA were used. He also questioned ownership of the corner store on the edge of the project not owned by the City.

“That’s a derelict corner on the edge of what’s supposed to be our anchor for southwest revitalization,” said Mayor Losner.

The Mayor verified that the allowable density in the area was 20 units per acre. The Development Services Department was asked if a variance was necessary but said the project was just 3 units short of that density limit.

Developer Lewis Swezy was asked if the City had the ability to limit occupancy to Homestead residents. Swezy agreed to check with his Fair Housing counsel and perhaps add a screening process prior to any rentals.

Council voted unanimously to proceed, allowing CRA to sell the property and green-light the project.

The second CRA project concerned a 0.77 acre rectangle of land along Flagler Avenue that is now a parking lot. The project is called Homestead Flats.

Developer Banyan LLC proposed to build forty loft type apartments, ten per floor in a narrow five story building with an architectural façade. The company’s architect termed the site, “a wonderful location, but the lot shape and size presented significant challenges. It’s only fifty feet wide at the narrowest, but there are no adjacent properties, so the balconies can be

staggered.”

The urban style building would be a $12 million project with a second floor pool and individual parking spaces at ground level for each unit.

Council was intrigued at the interest in the odd-shaped downtown lot but was critical of the developers’ plans.

Councilmember Patricia Fairclough-Staggers asked about the property value set at $405,000 in an August 2018 appraisal. The developer asked to pay a “nominal amount, perhaps a $1 due to a zero-cost plan in making the project viable as vertical building is more expensive.”

Fairclough-Staggers said, “I can’t support this project without knowing the numbers.”

Councilmember Larry Roth agreed. He asked what tax revenue the project would generate for the City. His math showed the City getting only $77,000 per year in taxes.

Mayor Losner said the current density of the site was 15 units per acre and the plan was the rough equivalent of 44 units per acre. Told the market rate for rent was $1.75 per square foot or $195,000 per unit for a 900 square foot apartment, the Mayor said, “That seems a little high.”

Councilmember Stephen Shelley agreed. He asked for more information

including the return on investment question raised by Councilmember Roth. He also wanted a review of the applicant’s litigation history.

Council was also concerned about approving this project yet maybe saying no to future projects using those higher density numbers.

The CRA Director suggested if Council allowed staff to continue negotiations, an economic impact study could be done on the project’s advantages and disadvantages.

City Attorney James White said to go forward the City had to modify the comp plan, change the zoning, and rezone to a proper category before even getting to the site plan process.

Council requested more information on the financials of the deal before voting five to one to allow staff to negotiate further, Mayor Losner voting no.

During the regular COW meeting, Council considered a licensing agreement for the Cybrarium. Library Services & Systems (LS&S), hired to manage and operate the library, would pay the City $1 million to market the Cybrarium concept and give the City a share of any re-licensing earnings for five years.

Secondly, Council funded the various attractions in the Cybrarium. The Virtual Reality Cube at $700,000, Book Mountain at $600,000, and the Children’s Theatre and the Teen Steam Punk lounge at $400,000 for artistic design work were all approved. The $1.7 million cost empties the City’s Art in Public Places Fund Finally, an $800,000 appropriation authorized LS&S to purchase library materials and books which become the property of the City.

All three items passed unanimously.

Councilman Roth suggested using the unoccupied third floor of the Cybrarium as gallery space for local artists. The City Manager said it was “cold, dark space” but did include an HVAC system. Council liked the idea that the 15,000 square foot space could be partially finished for gallery use with drywall until funding allowed its regular usage.

Council discussion touched briefly on the library’s archival materials that were said could be the core of an impressive historical collection but needed protection and a special space of its own.

In other business, Council renewed its annual insurance package with Brown & Brown for property insurance on City buildings for $607,879, the power plant at $394,248, an all-risk policy on City Hall and the police station at $110,695, and terrorism insurance for City property at a cost of $49,454.

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