Angry neighbors pressure church to back out of affordable housing property deal

Image 1 of 4

A plan to build affordable housing in a west St. Petersburg neighborhood has been axed after heated debates ended with police guarding the Mother's Day services at Grace Connection Church.

Pastor Tim Kelley and his congregation have now backed out of a deal with the city to sell their property.

The cash-strapped church was going to sell its west St. Pete property, which runs along Bear Creek, to the city for $1.75 million. The city was planning to build 86 affordable housing units on the land.

“What was going to be a simple transaction turned into a news cycle,” Pastor Kelley told FOX 13.

The deal is off the table after some in the neighborhood were angered by the plan. Some said they did not want a large structure that would change the character of a single-family home community. Others expressed fear of increased crime.

Ben Kirby, the mayor’s communications director says this is a case of 'not in my back yard.'

“I think people have the wrong idea about housing that’s affordable,” he said. “The kind of people that are going to live there are firefighters, teachers, senior citizens.”

Pastor Kelley said police had to guard Sunday’s Mother’s Day service after threats were made over the proposal.

The church says neighborhood backlash has nothing to do with their decision, Kelley says another church stepped up and they’ll both split the property but they’ll receive less money than the city was willing to pay.

Sharon Vanhout has lived near the church for 18 years and says she’s all for affordable housing but says her neighborhood isn’t the right place.

“The issue really was the infrastructure and having a building that was three to four stories high near single-family homes,” Vanhout said.

Kirby says the city’s sewer and road infrastructure would have been able to handle the housing units.

Currently St. Petersburg has earmarked $15 million in Penny For Pinellas funds for affordable housing.