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Community plan yields proposal for town center

But it is not without controversy. In one scenario, part of an existing soccer field would be lost.

By JANE BOKUN
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002


TOWN 'N COUNTRY -- Community planners recently unveiled a blueprint for a new town center on Paula Drive.

"The new center will be part of the overall Town 'N Country Community Plan and will become a focal point in the area," said Marcie Stenmark, a senior planner with Hillsborough County Planning who spoke to the Friends of the West Gate Library group last week.

"We want to have a central area where there are multiple destinations including restaurants, a park and a walkway."

Planners have been crafting an updated community plan for the Town 'N Country area for the past year. It is one of many parts of Hillsborough County slated for community-based planning, a process for redevelopment and growth guided by both planners and residents.

Currently along Paula and Ambassador drives, there is a library with an adjoining playground, basketball courts and a soccer field with picnic areas.

Under the restructured community plan, developed by new-urbanist architect and pioneer Andreas Duany, part of the soccer field would be used for a new senior citizens center, restaurants, a retention pond and a possible butterfly garden.

Mostly, though, it would include parking spots -- adding a total of 250 parking spaces for the proposed senior center, existing library and an existing children's daycare center.

And that part of the plan is somewhat controversial.

Critics say it would pave over West Gate Park. "It's our last piece of greenery," said Sue Hale, a community activist.

Stenmark countered that surveys indicate residents find the park unattractive, and that Town 'N Country needs more attractions that are accessible on walking paths.

County funding for the senior center was approved six months ago, said County Commissioner Stacey Easterling. The center will be designed for 8,000 square feet with enough space for 15,000 square feet, Easterling said.

Just where the senior center will go remains a question.

"The plan is not a done deal," said Israel Grajales, a senior county architect. "We approved several plans and this is just one concept that they were considering."

A 25,000-square-foot overall expansion of the West Gate Library already has been approved and will be launched early next year.

The next meeting to discuss the Town 'N Country senior center and proposed town center will be in early March. A location has not been chosen yet. For more information call Marcy Stenmark at 276-8461.

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