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Residents protest Salvation Army plan

By DAVID DeCAMP
Published February 8, 2007


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WESLEY CHAPEL - It was bad enough when the car dealerships started going up nearby, spoiling the vista from valuable new homes.

But now - gasp - it's the Salvation Army hitting central Pasco County.

The charity wants to build a 23,300-square-foot store to resell donated goods. The store would be on 3 acres on State Road 54 west of Interstate 75. It also would be across the road from the entrance to Lexington Oaks, a golf course and housing development where homes sell from $200,000 to $500,000. And where a big mall is in the works.

The thought of what a Salvation Army store might bring has triggered ill will usually reserved for big-box retailers and adult video shops. The stack of e-mail from mostly Lexington Oaks residents is at 60 complaints and growing the past week.

They worry about the clientele, increased crime and lower property values.

They fret the Salvation Army will addle their community with big delivery trucks, and expose children to "drug addicted vagrants on their daily jaunt to school," as resident David Di Marco wrote to County Administrator John Gallagher.

They also want something that sells higher-end goods.

"We deal with the Dollar General a ways down the road, we do not need this, and I don't want it," resident Carol Scarborough wrote.

"I want my family to live in our home and enjoy having guests over, but I don't want to tell them to make a right or left at the Salvation Army."

The Salvation Army has a different take. The charity calls the project a "family store." Parking for 114 vehicles is planned, with a double row of shrubs along the perimeter.

Salvation Army spokesman Chris Priest in Atlanta said it would be a satellite office of a bigger Tampa store off Nebraska Avenue.

"It will be purely retail," Priest said, and rehabilitation for substance abuse would be done elsewhere.

People treated for substance abuse would be eligible for jobs there, but only after reaching a proper level of sobriety, Priest said.

But mostly, the complaints come back to upscale desires. Michael Bock, a three-year resident of Lexington Oaks, wants higher-end businesses - and the Salvation Army store built elsewhere.

"I think it's a good facility. I think it's a great idea," Bock said. "But I look at what I see in Tampa ... and it's mounds of crap."

Priest said he could not explain why the Salvation Army chose the high-end location in Wesley Chapel for a store. They often are in areas with lower income levels. Local Salvation Army officials did not return messages.

"I honestly don't know why they wanted to put a Salvation Army there," said County Commissioner Pat Mulieri, whose district includes the location.

The Salvation Army bought the property in February 2006 for $2.1-million. The land is zoned to allow commercial uses. The proposed store's docks and storage area allow for some distribution, which normally is an industrial use.

But Pasco zoning administrator Deborah Zampetti decided the project meets code because most of the building will be for retailing.

"It's permissible," Zampetti wrote in a note Monday.

Still, the county's Development Review Committee must approve the plans for the site at a meeting to review technical details Feb. 22.

Mulieri, recipient of many of the complaints, said she is urging people to attend so the Salvation Army can hear what residents want. The charity probably has the legal right to build there, but neighbors could influence the design, she said.

Not that she prefers the Salvation Army, either.

"Yeah," Mulieri said, "I would like to see something more upscale there."

David DeCamp can be reached at 727 869-6232 or ddecamp@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 7, 2007, 23:45:09]


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