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Neighbors call foul over ballfields plan
By THERESA BLACKWELL and CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published May 10, 2007
TRINITY - A stand of oak and scrub, 200 feet deep, is all that separates Martin Pijanow-ski's home in Fox Hollow from a looming fight over 46 acres of the Brooker Creek Preserve.
Just south of Trinity Boulevard and the Pasco County line is where Pinellas County is thinking of putting four fields for soccer, football and lacrosse.
It's a proposal that's infuriated neighbors in this stretch of the Fox Hollow community.
For one thing, neighbors charge that Pinellas officials didn't talk to them about any of these plans.
"It's disrespectful that they can do something like that without any thought to the people most affected, just because they live in another county, " said John Fernandez, president of the homeowners association at Fox Hollow's Bellerive neighborhood.
Pinellas' Board of Examiners is holding a hearing at 9 a.m. today that is the first step in considering changing the preserve's land use designation to allow for ballfields.
The county has had plans for the water treatment plant - called a blending facility - in the Brooker Creek Preserve for years.
But many Trinity residents didn't find out about the blending facility plans until last year, after the county had cleared the land. Officials promised residents they wouldn't see it or hear it.
But the price for building the facility came in higher than expected, so county officials are taking a second look at the project. Pinellas County Utilities will be bringing in a new analysis of options by May 19.
The momentum of recent discussion is toward building a facility smaller than originally planned, including at least a pumping station to replace the aging Keller plant.
Because a smaller facility would require less property, Pinellas County Administrator Steve Spratt suggested in late March that the remaining cleared land would make for good athletic fields.
To get the ball rolling, he asked the East Lake Youth Sports Association to apply for a land use change for those acres that would allow four all-purpose fields on part of the 46 cleared acres.
In early April, the sports association did just that, plus another request for more ballfields on 38.5 piney preserve acres off Old Keystone Road.
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Like others in his neighborhood, Fernandez believes a nature preserve should not be used for active recreation.
"Philosophically, I don't have a problem with the field, " he said. "But I do have a problem with taking a preserve and then changing it. What's next, a nuclear power plant?"
Sam Goldberg, an 82-year-old resident, fears the noise and traffic that's going to come with the ballfields.
"I like ballparks. I like kids, " he said. "But we're at an age when we need quiet."
Pinellas officials like Paul Cozzie, bureau director of the Culture, Education and Leisure Department, say Trinity residents have little to worry about.
"As for the impact on those residents north of that site - the lights, the traffic, the noise - there's really not a lot to be concerned about, " Cozzie said.
Current lighting technology can pinpoint the lighting and reduce the glare and spill, he said, and trees will provide some screening.
The effect on traffic should be minimal, too, he said, because about 95 to 98 percent of participants will be coming from unincorporated Pinellas County to the south and activities will be held at nonpeak traffic times. Parking will be inside the complex, not on the road.
The fields would be at least 1, 000 yards from the closest homes, Cozzie estimated, so noise should be less than the noise on Trinity Boulevard.
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Not good enough, Pijanowski said.
"Most games are at night, " the Fox Hollow resident said. "We can hear the band at Mitchell High School a good half-mile away. We can just about see (where the ballfields will be) through the woods."
Pijanowski could live with the water plant, he said. It wouldn't have made much noise and the community needs water. But not ballfields, he said.
Fernandez questioned whether the sports association, as a private entity, can be held accountable for problems as a public utility.
Cozzie said residents could call Pinellas officials if they have any complaints.
The fields may benefit some Pasco residents because organizations such as club soccer have no county residency restrictions.
Cozzie has had some discussions with Pasco officials on sports facilities already and plans to have more.
"They are short on ballfields, too, " Cozzie said.
But that's not the point, Fernandez said.
"I'd still have a problem with active recreation on a preservation, " he said.
Fernandez added that there is an existing field at nearby Starkey Wilderness Preserve.
"It's like shoving sand against the tide, " Goldberg said. "But we're solidly against it."
If you go
The first public hearing on the two land use changes sought by the East Lake Youth Sports Association will be held before the Pinellas County Board of Examiners at 9 a.m. today in the County Commission Assembly Room, Fifth Floor, 315 Court St., Clearwater. The audience is welcome to ask questions or comment. For additional information, call John Cueva, Pinellas County zoning manager of Building and Development Review Services, at (727) 464-3888.