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Neighborhood Report

Condo plan rattles neighbors

Trepidation about traffic brews on Knights and Wallcraft as 75 luxury units appear to be a done deal.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 3, 2003


There doesn't appear to be any way to stop it.

But neighbors still aren't happy about a new high-rise condominium project proposed for Bayshore Boulevard.

JMC Communities of St. Petersburg wants to build a 25-story luxury complex on 1.8 acres of oaks, palms and open space between Knights and Wallcraft avenues.

The land is zoned for up to 132 units. JMC proposes 75.

"We'll be decreasing the traffic and the unit count," said Ron Weaver, a Tampa lawyer representing JMC.

The condos will be akin to the 21-story Florencia complex JMC built in downtown St. Petersburg. Each unit will be 2,000 to 2,600 square feet and sell for $500,000 to $1.5-million.

JMC builds "A-plus quality products," Weaver said.

Neighbors aren't impressed.

"It's going to be a disaster," said Sue Lyon, president of both the Bayshore Beautiful Homeowners Association and Tampa Homeowners, an Association of Neighborhoods, the influential citywide group.

The biggest concern: traffic.

Knights and Wallcraft avenues are too narrow -- and too full of kids -- to handle the increased load, neighbors say. Too many drivers already use Wallcraft to zip between Bayshore Boulevard and MacDill Avenue, they say.

To slow them down, residents are considering "buying a junk car and putting it out there," said Rob Tullman, who lives on Wallcraft.

He and other residents want JMC to consider funneling all the condo traffic to Bayshore.

James and Malanie Knight have other concerns. They're building a house on Wallcraft.

They knew a high-rise might go up on the lot one day, but they thought a two-story house across the street would buffer them.

Apparently, they thought wrong. JMC is planning to buy the house, tear it down and use the land to relocate a grand oak tree.

"I never thought this guy would be this aggressive," said Malanie Knight, a real estate agent.

Weaver responds that 75 units won't produce that many more cars. And transportation experts prefer several driveways to move cars in and out, so they're dispersed, he said.

Besides access from Knights and Wallcraft, a U-shaped driveway for pickup and dropoff will tie in to Bayshore Boulevard. Unlike the other two driveways, though, it won't connect to the parking garage.

The Knights' view will improve, Weaver insisted. "They'll look into a grand oak tree," he said.

The odds aren't in the residents' favor.

Because the land is already zoned for high-rise development, JMC needs only to secure building permits and get the city to sign off on plans to move the oak.

Mayor Dick Greco told neighbors he favors the project, Lyon said.

The developers met with residents and city officials two weeks ago. Another meeting is set for Monday in Greco's office, Lyon said.

The land, owned by Bayshore Four Seasons, was bought for $4.7-million in 1993. The principal investor lives in Switzerland, according to architect Peter Gottschalk, who worked on earlier plans for the site.

Developers have been trying to put a high-rise there for a decade.

Site plans submitted in 1992 called for a 16-story complex and five-story parking garage. After years of delays, contractors pulled permits for the parking garage last spring.

But construction never began. Gottschalk blamed soft markets and bad timing. "We basically missed the window," he said.

JMC has contracts with the landowner and hopes to begin construction this year, Weaver said.

Residents are hoping for a miracle.

Some hope to convince the principal investor that he can make as much money by carving the land into lots for single-family homes. Others think they can raise enough money to buy the land and turn it into a park.

"It'd be an awesome park. Are you kidding me?" said Renee Sheehan, who lives on Knights Avenue.

Gottschalk wasn't writing off that possibility.

"Let them come up with $4- or $5-million," he said, "and they can have a park."

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com .

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