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The week in review

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001

REZONING MAY BRING MORE BUSINESSES: More stores, offices and homes could be coming to the southwest corner of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and County Line Road in New Tampa if the City Council approves a rezoning request next month. The request came from a group of property owners, known as the Scala Group and the 683 Group, and calls for a mix of residential and commercial uses on 213 acres just north of Wharton High School. On Thursday, the City Council scheduled a rezoning hearing for 6:30 p.m. April 12 at the City Hall, 315 E. Kennedy Blvd.

OLD CHURCH DEMOLISHED TO MAKE ROOM FOR NEW: While they recalled weddings and baptismal services at Lake Magdelene United Methodist Church, members watched Wednesday as the historic sanctuary was reduced to rubble. The building served three generations of churchgoers in northwest Hillsborough County over 40 years and was a familiar landmark at 2909 W Fletcher Ave.

The members will build a new church twice as large to keep pace with its growing congregation. With 2,200 members, the old 350-seat building was bursting at the seams. In recent years, Sunday morning worship was divided into three separate services to help ease the crowding.

The new, $4.5-million sanctuary will seat 600 people when it opens, but can easily expand to accommodate 1,300 worshipers. Work should be done in time for Easter Sunday service next year.

UP IN FLAMES: A moving truck went up in flames Tuesday in New Tampa. Dennis Farnsworth was waiting for the truck to arrive at about 9 a.m. when police came to his door and told him it was on fire. He rushed outside to find everything destroyed. Fire officials said a mover may have left a smoldering cigarette in the trailer while it was being loaded, but the moving company suspected faulty wiring.

When the driver arrived at the Marquis apartments on Richmond Place Drive, he saw smoke coming from the back. He opened the side door and found the contents on fire.

Farnsworth, 48, salvaged a few charred photographs and books, but he lost videotapes of his children when they were young, a pool table, stereo speakers, old toys and other mementos.

Pete Gaudion, general manager of the Beltmann Moving and Storage Co., said the company insurance would cover the losses.

GOOD SAMARITAN DIES ON ROAD: Two people died in separate accidents in northwest Hillsborough County within an hour of each other Tuesday -- a good Samaritan who was helping a stranded motorist on Waters Avenue and a St. Petersburg man whose car went out of control on Sheldon Road.

Eugene Semonelle, 58, was traveling south on Sheldon when he lost control of his Chevrolet Camaro south of Crown Boulevard at 10:55 p.m. and hit a utility pole, said Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter. Semonelle, who was wearing a seat belt, died at the scene.

Walter Santiago, 42, of 3539 Del Lago Circle, was hit by a car driven by Ryan Douglas Hoge, 22, of 4255 W Humphrey St. Santiago was trying to help Olga Romero, 56, of the Lake Magdalene area, whose car had broken down in the center eastbound lane of Waters near Manhattan Avenue at 11:50 p.m., Carter said. "They were standing in front of Romero's vehicle when another vehicle, a 1995 Honda, driven by Hoge, going east on Waters, ran into the rear of Romero's car, hitting Santiago and Romero," she said.

Romero went to St. Joseph's Hospital and Hoge to University Community Hospital, Tampa. Hoge, who had an outstanding warrant for violation of probation, was charged with hit-and-run, leaving the scene of an accident with death and leaving the scene of an accident with injuries, Carter said.

GERACIS, OWNERS SUE PASCO: Pasco County was sued Tuesday by prominent Lutz land owners worried that environmental concessions in the county's growth plan will render much of their property impossible to develop. Peter and Nick Geraci and U.S. Home Corp., who separately are trying to develop a couple thousand acres along State Road 54 in Land O'Lakes, are seeking an injunction from Pasco Circuit Court to stop the county from enforcing the new rules.

Developers object to the county's intention to bolster protection of wells, wetlands and wildlife, all of which threaten to curb development. At issue are amendments to the county's comprehensive land-use plan, which shows what development can go where. Environmentalists led by the Land O'Lakes group Citizens for Sanity challenged the plan as a recipe for overdevelopment.

Litigation is nothing new for the Geracis, who have fought for years to force Hillsborough County to yield to plans for a large mall at Van Dyke Road and Dale Mabry Highway.

The brothers' ranch occupies about 1,000 acres southwest of U.S. 41 and SR 54, land they want to convert into a huge development, Long Lake Ranch. Plans call for 1.9-million square feet of commercial space, including a mega mall and 1,700 houses and apartments.

U.S. Home is trying to build the LeDantec subdivision -- 1,599 homes on 1,166 acres -- across SR 54 from the Geracis.

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