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Group battles drug store

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Using a Web site, yard signs, petitions and mailings, an Old Northeast group has launched a campaign to try to keep a national chain drugstore out of its neighborhood.

CVS, which announced last year it would begin aggressive expansion in the Tampa Bay area, wants to put a 10,880-square-foot store on the current Watson's Foodtown site, 845 Fourth St. N.

Some Old Northeast residents favor the drugstore. They believe it will improve one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, one that has undergone a revival during the past two decades.

But the "STOP CVS" movement is against it. The group cites commercial intrusion, traffic problems, demolition of historic buildings and a too-large structure as reasons it opposes the project.

"We are looking for CVS to voluntarily withdraw their application," said Jim Martin, a former St. Petersburg City Council member who is one of the opposition leaders.

"This is the first (CVS) store in Pinellas County. What kind of a message is CVS sending? "We're going to put our store in a historic section over the objections of the neighborhood?' This is their handshake to the community?"

Drugstore development in historic districts has emerged as a national issue, said Gary Kozel, a spokesman for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The organization is aware of the CVS proposal, Kozel said.

"We are monitoring the situation very closely and will be in touch with CVS as needed," he said.

Two weeks ago, the city Planning Commission approving rezoning to allow retail activity on property behind Foodtown, a first-step decision that opened the door for a parking lot to be built.

The City Council must next consider the rezoning, which has the effect of an ordinance, and site plans have yet to undergo official review.

The council takes up the zoning matter for the first time Thursday and a public hearing is scheduled June 15, although the residents fighting the drugstore would like the hearing postponed until July to give them more time to organize, Martin said.

Disagreement about the project emerged at the Planning Commission meeting, when residents on both sides of the issue spoke with equal passion. Those who favor the development of a drugstore say it would upgrade the Foodtown site, which they say attracts unsavory activity.

(Police records show 90 calls for assistance at the Foodtown address since Oct. 2, 1999.)

So far, no formal initiative has been organized to counter the opponents, who have placed bright red "STOP CVS" signs in a few Old Northeast yards, mostly near the proposed project.

Felix Fudge favors the coming of CVS. "Not only is it better, it is dramatically better" for the neighborhood, said Fudge.

He dismisses fears of increased traffic through the neighborhood, saying CVS shoppers from new condominiums downtown and elsewhere would use Fourth Street N or other through streets to come and go, not the neighborhood's Eighth and Ninth avenues N. "It's common-sense reality," he said.

"(City planners), the neighborhood redesign plan and the North Shore Neighborhood Association are going to make sure this is a good project," Fudge said.

Residents have a chance to make their views known at two neighborhood design review meetings. Both are at the Sunshine Center, 330 Fifth St. N. One is 6:30 tonight; the other is 6:30 p.m. June 7.

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