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Gas station in hot water once again

Neighbors, who previously criticized beer sales and bright lights, complain about U-Haul trucks parked there.

By SUSAN THURSTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001


CROSS CREEK -- First it was about beer. Then it was bright lights. Now U-Haul trucks.

A gasoline station in New Tampa can't seem to do much right in the eyes of those who say the business doesn't fit with the neighborhood and should never have been built.

Disagreements began long before the station opened in July at Cross Creek Boulevard and Kinnan Street. The station sits smack in a residential area near two schools, a library and a baseball park.

Residents won the first fight, managing to stop the sale of alcohol at the station's convenience store. They are still struggling over the lights that shine into nearby homes.

Now, neighbors say they dislike the look of U-Haul trucks parked illegally in the lot.

"I wish the whole gas station would be gone," said Martin Dowd of Covington Estates near Kinnan, who also opposes plans to open a shopping center on the site. "I don't think it's a place for retail. The people around here don't need that."

Owner Frank Aliaga says residents are being unreasonable. He wants to be a good neighbor, but has to focus on his business first.

"The neighborhood is trying to close the station," he said Thursday. "I've tried to work with them ... but I have to meet my payments."

Aliaga started renting out the moving trucks in January to earn more money for the fledgling station, which also has a Domino's Pizza.

He says one of his managers got permission.

The county disagrees.

Last week, the county notified Aliaga that storing trucks in the parking lot violated the property's zoning. The issue goes before the code enforcement board in April. If the board rules against Aliaga, he'll have to remove the trucks or apply for a zoning change.

County code enforcement officials doubt Aliaga will seek the change. The process is time-consuming and costly, said Don Shea, operations manager for the community improvement department, which oversees code enforcement.

"This is not an uncommon thing," he said. "They typically stop doing business."

Failure to comply could result in fines of up to $1,000 a day, Shea said. The amount would likely be lower, however, given that the violation is not life-threatening.

A county inspector visited the station last month after receiving an anonymous complaint, Shea said. A certified letter was sent Feb. 8 to the owner, but it was never picked up.

A second letter was hand-delivered Wednesday.

Aliaga said he has been out of town, but plans to meet with the county to discuss the situation. He hoped to keep the U-Haul trucks because they are popular with people in the nearby apartments.

Also unresolved is the issue of the lights over the gas pumps.

Aliaga met with residents and county staff in October after some people in Misty Creek complained that the bright lights kept them up at night.

During the meeting, he promised to install deflectors and erect a 6- to 8-foot wall on the west side of the station behind the homes.

Aliaga said he was gone for more than a month and has not put the deflectors up because he has not heard any more about them from residents.

He plans to build the wall, but only when work begins on the shopping center.

The 32,000-square-foot Cross Creek Centre will have space for 23 small businesses. No construction date is set. Aliaga, who is developing the center, hopes tenants can move in this summer.

County officials say they have no control over the lighting or the wall. Wattage amounts are not part of the zoning condition. The wall is a requirement of the shopping center, not the gas station.

"I really don't have a way to force him to do it," said Paula Harvey, the county's director of planning and zoning, who attended the October meeting. "(Residents) need to keep on pressing him."

- Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 226-3463 or thurston@sptimes.com.

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