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Residents watch with suspicion as retail development unfolds

Civic leaders say the developer of the Shoppes of Citrus Park is going back on promises made when plans were first approved.

By JACKIE RIPLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 11, 2001


CITRUS PARK -- Citizen watchdogs continue to keep a wary eye on the Shoppes of Citrus Park, scheduled to open next month at Gunn Highway and Ehrlich Road in the heart of Citrus Park.

So far they have expressed opposition to the building's facade and the height of the parking lot lights.

Now they say Clearwater developer Monroe's Prestige Group is reneging on its promise to limit buildings to one story because the Publix is installing an elevator, an amenity they say can mean only one thing.

"It will be two stories," said Jean Carson, president of the Citrus Park Community Civic Association. "They agreed it would be one story, not two."

One story or two, however, is in the eye of the beholder. And in this case the beholder is Hillsborough County, which considers a mezzanine another level but not another story.

And an elevator would be necessary to meet Florida's accessibility requirement, said Jim Palevada, a manager in the county's building department.

The store, touted as state of the art, will hold cooking classes in the mezzanine.

Which brings another concern: Should beer and wine be consumed on the premises? Publix, which has the right to sell beer and wine, will need additional permission to serve them, said Daniel Santos, a county planner.

And residents fear that other businesses, in this area surrounded by schools and churches, will seek permits to serve beer and wine as well.

"Once you open that door you can't close it," Carson said.

Hillsborough County Commissioners held the developer to stringent standards before approving the 160,000-square-foot center because it is located in one of the county's community planning areas.

Consultants, county officials and residents spent last year determining how Citrus Park should look in the future. The prominent idea was for a neo-traditional neighborhood with a town center, open space and jobs within walking distance.

The Citrus Park plan is part of a larger northwest Hillsborough community plan, which seeks to direct growth away from urban sprawl and toward pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.

The design elements that the county imposed on the project include a "Florida cracker" style facade, height limits on the buildings and parking lot lights, all in keeping with the area's rural character.

Residents who already opposed the project have complained that the building does not fit their definition of "Florida -C cracker." They complained further when the developer received permission to raise parking lot lights higher than the specified 18 feet. County commissioners agreed to that second change when the developer assured them that the lights would not bedirected toward the surrounding neighborhood.

Ira Waitz, executive vice president for Monroe's Prestige, did not return a reporter's telephone call.

Carson said the civic association would send letters to the County Commission outlining their concerns.

The developer "knew they were close to schools," Carson said. "They're not watching the ages of children they might be selling to. They'll also be hiring teenage kids."

Publix, the 61,000-square-foot anchor tenant, will be flanked by a drugstore, two banks and other retail stores.

- Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 226-3468.

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