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Bob Lee's tire center gets expansion okay

By ANDREW MEACHAM
Published May 9, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Bob Lee's may not be pretty. But the gritty blue tire center on Fourth Street N has stood there since 1946, longer than some of its critics have been alive. On Wednesday, the company won permission from the Environmental Development Commission to develop three vacant lots for parking and automotive repair.

Neighbors argued that such expansion should at least come with conditions, some of which the city was about to impose anyway. A letter to zoning official John Hixenbaugh signed by 19 of them, mostly residents along 16th and 17th avenues N, called the business an eyesore and labeled it out of character with ongoing efforts to beautify Fourth Street.

The three lots lie east of Bob Lee's office entrance at 1631 Fourth St. N, and run behind buildings on 16th and 17th avenues N used for automotive repair. Creating parking space would get cars off 17th Avenue N, contended attorney Donald Mastry, representing Bob Lee's.

City staff approved the business' site plan and special exception request for the parking lots. But they recommended a long list of conditions including low-level acorn lighting; a holly tree (or something similar) every 10 feet; curbing; and more shade trees along 16th and 17th avenues N.

Seven neighbors spoke at the meeting to express frustrations with overflow parking for the automotive business along the avenues. Some complained of mechanics speeding down the narrow streets on test drives.

Mastry said the parking lot would solve the residents' biggest complaint, but that the reality of the repair shop would remain. "I don't care how much you would like Bob Lee's not to be there," he said. "Bob Lee's isn't leaving."

Mastry also steered another property across the street to board approval, this time for a Cornerstone Bank at 1840 Fourth St. N. The two-story bank and office building will sit between Outback Steakhouse and the Value Cleaners, and includes a drive-through to the rear. Bank customers would enter through the same driveway that gives access to Outback and Panera Bread.

In other business, the EDC cleared the way for a three-story medical office building, part of the third and final phase of a $30-million overhaul to St. Anthony's Hospital. The hospital needed variances to floor area and parking requirements, plus a site plan modification for the Heart and Vascular Institute. The $7.8-million structure will house a 45,000-square-foot cardiac care center, including two catheterization laboratories.

That's 40,000 square feet above what the residential office zoning allows. Other area hospitals including Bayfront Medical Center and All Children's Hospital have won variances from suburban, low-density zoning which is part of the problem, zoning official John Hixenbaugh said.

"(The current zoning ordinance) does not encourage or foster the urban medical facilities that we have in St. Petersburg," he said.

The Heart and Vascular Institute will sit east of the hospital, at 555 11th St. N, and a one-story laundry building will come down. The hospital is adding a 28-bed telemetry unit to a renovated third-floor wing, and should have added lighting, landscaping and parking lot changes by the end of the year.

The board also granted Canterbury School permission to build a softball field in the southeast corner of its own property, and baseball and soccer fields in adjacent city-owned property to the east near 62nd Avenue NE.

The advent of the athletic fields could benefit Edgemoor neighbors, who have complained about overcrowded soccer fields at Puryear Park.

The commission approved alley and easement vacations adjacent to two city-owned properties in Midtown. The city won approval to vacate all alleys and easements within the block from 19th to 20th Street S, from Third to Fourth Avenue. The business completes a 1999 attempt to vacate all alleys on this block, which was approved by the City Council but stalled when property owners on the east end refused to sign off. The city has since acquired those properties, which include a vacant lot and a dilapidated aluminum structure across from an ice plant.

The commission also vacated Upton Court S and a 5-foot alley west of that street. Both properties lie south of 13th Avenue S with city-owned land, including the site of the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center at Mercy Hospital on 22nd Street.

What is the EDC?

The Environmental Development Commission is a citizens board that meets the first Wednesday of each month to review large development projects. The board reviews and approves site plans and has the power to grant exceptions to city codes for elements of projects that do not conform. Decisions of the commission can be appealed within 10 days to the City Council. After approval, the petitioner has the city's permission to go forward, although further scrutiny may be required by other governing agencies.

[Last modified May 9, 2004, 01:40:27]


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