The first phase of an initiative to bring affordable housing to Port St. Joe got a green light from city commissioners on Tuesday.

The first phase of an initiative to bring affordable housing to Port St. Joe got a green light from city commissioners on Tuesday.

The next step is up to the Paces Foundation and the state of Florida.

The city and Paces agreed formally to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that fuels the foundation’s application for critical housing tax credits to pump capital into a proposal to build up to 74 affordable housing units on the north side of the city.

“We look forward to working with you for a long, long time,” said Rick Haymond, a development associate with the Paces Foundation, a not-for-profit that has constructed affordable housing complexes around Northwest Florida.

The city’s part of the deal comes with little cost or risk.

The city agrees to designate the development, on 41.96 acres near the Washington Recreation Center as affordable and allow the construction of up to 74 units, which will primarily if not solely apartments.

The city agrees to work with Paces and the county on any issues that represent an obstacle to the development and to provide a platform for Paces to reach out to the community for review and input of design and development of the property.

In turn, the Paces Foundation will perform all the heavy lifting to put together an application package to the Florida Housing Finance Cooperation for an award of Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits.

That includes surveys, engineering, design work, environmental assessment and site plans.

The Foundation uses leverages those credits with private lenders to inject dollars into the development of affordable housing.

After holding title for 15 years, the Foundation then provides, under appropriate circumstances, for renters to purchase their units.

The major task for the city is to deed the land, which was donated by the St. Joe Company and designated for affordable housing, over to Paces.

City commissioners decided, with approval from the Paces folks, to wait on transfer of the land until after the announcement of any award of tax credits.

“If it is not approved (this year) we will turn it around and submit it until it is,” Haymond said.

A market study commissioned by the Foundation indicated an existing estimated need for 74 family housing units as well as a substantial need for senior units. The Foundation is determining the economic feasibility of various unit counts to determine the number of units to be built in the first phase.

The MOU contemplates that this would be an initial phase of affordable housing and future development of affordable housing will be linked to overall growth in the county and city markets in the coming years.

Lighthouse relocation bids

The bids for relocation of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse were opened last week and the city is gazing at a bill well in excess of assembled funds.

While eight firms picked up bid packets and attended the pre-bid conference, only two, Worth Contracting, Inc. and Cathey Construction, submitted sealed bids by last Thursday.

The low bid, from Worth, came in at $520,000 to move the four city-owned structures – the lighthouse, two keepers’ quarters and oil house – and erect them at George Core Park.

The bid is to move the structures over roadway.

“This is for moving and setting up the structures,” said city manager Jim Anderson. “They would be bringing it by road the costs of lowering power lines is not included.”

Initial estimates from Duke Energy peg that cost at $150,000-$300,000. Mayor Mel Magidson has indicated that discussions with the utility indicated no willingness to donate the expense.

The city is short that amount for the move by an estimated $100,000 or more.

The state appropriated $325,000 for the effort to relocate the lighthouse and structures and a fundraising campaign by the St. Joseph Historical Society has brought in $40,000-$50,000.

The Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency secured a $30,000 grant and matched it.

The city received an extension of time from the federal government to move the structures. Originally the deadline expired in late August but the date was pushed back to January.

City manager Jim Anderson said city staff and engineers Preble Rish were reviewing the bids – “It is quite a complex package” – and determining whether there was room to work with the contractor to bring the price down or whether bids might be tossed and the project rebid.

Interlocal agreement

City commissioners approved an interlocal agreement with the county that amends a previous agreement concerning the annexation of WindMark Beach.

City commissioners approved language stating that county residents would be charged the same as city residents for water and sewer – critical for the Board of County Commissioners – and otherwise validated amendments approved by the county.

Among those would be deeding over the TDC Welcome Center building to the county, assuming firefighting responsibilities in Oak Grove and establishing a water rescue unit along coastal areas within the city.

Water line replacement in NPSJ

Finally receiving a notice to proceed from USDA Rural Development on a project to replace sidewalks on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., the city is now poised to proceed with much-needed water line replacement on the north end of town.

The water line replacement, part of the initial phase of replacement, had been held up for at least two months as the city awaited word on the separate MLK sidewalk project.

Since the two projects involved replacement of infrastructure, the water line replacement was put on hold pending approval of the sidewalk project.

The PSJRA received grant funding for the sidewalk work, which is aimed at improving the aesthetics and access to the business district in the neighborhood of North Port St. Joe.

The water line replacement along Avenues B, C and D, between MLK and Battle Street, were cut out from the initial phase of water line replacement to allow the city to apply for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) of $650,000 to complete the project.

The CDBG provides funding that allows the city to avoid taking on additional debt while it replaces some 20 miles of aging pipe.

With the okay from USDA on the sidewalk project, Bruce Ballister with the Apalachee Regional Planning Council, indicated that the water line replacement would begin in the fall, the bid being likely awarded in October.

That would allow time for the city to submit an application for the next CDBG cycle  - Ballister indicated a rule change was pushing back the window for application to January – to secure a grant for the second phase of water line replacement in North Port St. Joe.

“We could be finished with the North Port St. Joe project by next year,” Ballister said. “We should see improved water quality as pipes are replaced.”