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New development plan may have same problems as first

The new plan for residential and commercial building on 90 acres off Gunn Highway is different, but still likely to be more than residents want.

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 10, 2001


KEYSTONE -- When a landowner sits down with Keystone residents to discuss a development proposal, the result is usually a scaled down project.

That's the direction John and Angel Oliva appeared to be headed when they withdrew a mixed-use plan for 15 estate homes and retail space on 90 acres off Gunn Highway at Tarpon Springs and Lutz-Lake Fern roads.

But after weeks of talks with residents, the Olivas have returned with an equally ambitious proposal that surprised one county planner.

The new plan, submitted on March 30, calls for an additional 7,150 square feet of commercial space -- 57,150 square feet instead of 50,000 square feet -- and at least as many estate homes around Lake Fern.

The proposal is scheduled to go before a zoning hearing master on April 24.

"I can't wait to see them try to convince staff about that," said Keystone Civic Association vice president Laura Swain.

Many Keystone residents oppose major commercial and residential growth, a philosophy reinforced in the Keystone Community Plan approved by the County Commission last year. Not surprisingly, they opposed the part of the Olivas' proposal calling for a 28,000-square-foot supermarket.

While small by supermarket standards, residents fear the community cannot support two such stores.

They vehemently opposed a 38,000-square-foot Kash n' Karry being built to the south, at Gunn and Van Dyke Road.

After taking a preliminary look, Lorraine Duffy, senior county planner with the Planning Commission, suggested the supermarket was a stumbling block. At 28,000 square feet, it would absorb most, if not all, of the total space the county probably would allow.

"This seems to be a larger project than what typically would be allowed in a rural area," she said.

To appease residents, the Olivas removed a proposal for 30,000 square feet of commercial space at Gunn and Lutz-Lake Fern Road. But they hope to achieve their overall goal by winning opponents over with a series of smaller buildings -- none larger than 5,000 square feet -- with rural architectural designs, said family attorney A. G. Spicola.

"We like what we call the village concept," Spicola said. "We think the impact is totally different than some big building sitting on a piece of property with nothing around it."

Even though the community plan calls for 5-acre residential lots, the Olivas are seeking an exemption allowing them to build homes on 2.5-acre lots.

In addition, two other parcels on the property would be set aside for residents to use and a community building, such as an elementary school.

Despite spending weeks on the new site plan, Spicola said he is aware that the proposal is not what residents want to see. He may request that the April 24 hearing be postponed, he said.

"There's a good chance we will ask," he said.

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