Bus lot irks residents in historic community
By GINA PACE and JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published January 27, 2007
DADE CITY - The heart of the county's only historic district is a picturesque brick street with large, stately homes and shady live oaks.
Soon, it will also include 15 to 20 yellow school buses, and some residents on Church Avenue aren't happy about it.
The School District, which has run out of room at its nearby bus depot for the east side of the county, is moving some buses to the historic neighborhood.
One of the residents miffed by the plan is Mayor Hutch Brock, who has brought up the matter at City Commission meetings and contacted superintendent Heather Fiorentino in hopes that the School District will scrap the idea.
"I know I sound provincial because I live around the corner," Brock said at Tuesday's meeting. "But it is the only historic district in Pasco County, and it seems a shame to put a lot in the middle of it."
Allen Altman, the area's newly elected School Board member, said he first heard complaints about the situation during the winter holidays. That was about the time that the district put up chain link fencing at the site.
Altman went out to take a look and also called the district administration with some pointed questions. He walked away satisfied.
Why? He focused on two key elements that he figured should mollify the community: The district will landscape the property to make it look nicer, and it does not plan to park buses there forever.
"It is intended to be a temporary site," Altman said.
Ray Gadd, the assistant superintendent who oversees such things, reiterated that fact in a separate conversation.
"There will be no garage, no mechanics. It's temporary," Gadd said.
As enrollment has risen, he said, the district has needed more buses, and the nearby bus barn can't hold them all. Until the district can expand the existing garage - which requires land and money that it doesn't have right now - the plans call for storing 15 to 20 buses at the demolished high school at 14th Street and Howard Avenue.
That being the situation, he demurred when asked for a more specific definition of "temporary."
"What does temporary mean? I don't have an answer to that," Gadd said. "It's probably a year or two until we can find some kind of resolution."
All things being equal, transportation director Mike Park said, he would prefer not to have buses parked outside the main compound. It's not an unusual situation, though, given the county's growth, he said, noting that the district also parks buses at three Zephyrhills schools.
"We'll be the least disruptive that we can be," Park said.
That doesn't provide a lot of comfort to residents of the historic district, like Pat German, a longtime real estate agent.
"A bus barn is basically an industrial use," German said. "Why would you inject that somewhere like this?"
Brock said if the school district doesn't relent, he might tackle the issue another way - through zoning. The zoning allows for school facilities, City Attorney Karla Owens said.
"It becomes an argument over semantics," Owens said. "Is this a normal accessory use of a school? Frankly, I think the answer is no, but nobody asked me."
Brock said he thinks another suitable site for the parking lot can be found.
"I'm still hopeful the school board and Dade City can resolve this," he said.
Gina Pace can be reached at 352 521-6518 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext 6518. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at (813) 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4614. His e-mail address is email@example.com