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Drugstore plan prompts petitions

One petition favors selling a church site for the store; some neighbors present a counter-petition.

By WILMA NORTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 6, 2000


SEMINOLE -- The proponents and opponents might have been describing two different pieces of land as they argued over whether Bay Pines Evangelical Lutheran Church should be torn down to make way for a CVS drugstore.

The property at the corner of Park Boulevard and 113th Street is zoned for residential use. To build a drugstore, the company needs it changed to commercial.

CVS presented its case Monday in a hearing before a county planning and zoning panel, which will make a recommendation to the County Commission July 18.

The 40 or 50 people who attended the hearing segregated themselves by viewpoint. If it had been a wedding, the proponents would have been on the bride's side, the opponents on the groom's.

Neighbors argued that a drugstore on that corner of unincorporated land near Seminole would ruin their area. Church members and drug store representatives countered that the land is suitable only for a commercial venture, in this case a 10,880-square-foot building with a drive-through.

The church's pastor presented a petition with 300 names in favor of the rezoning; the opposition presented a counter-petition.

The neighbors suggested the church could sell its land to a congregation just starting out or perhaps to someone who would build housing for the elderly. The lawyer representing CVS said, "I don't think by any standards this site will again in our lifetimes be suitable for residential."

The struggle for prime Pinellas County real estate is becoming familiar to CVS, the nation's second-largest drug store chain. It announced last year that it plans to enter the Tampa Bay market.

In St. Petersburg, CVS announced it wanted to locate its first Pinellas store on Fourth Street N where Watson's Food Town now sits. Neighbors are fighting that location, too.

At the hearing on the Seminole-area proposal, Don Mastry, the attorney for CVS, said the site has become a commercial zone, whether the neighbors wanted it or not.

He pointed out that there is a mall on one corner, a bank and grocery on another and a bank and office building on the third. "We feel that over the years, the area has transformed from an undeveloped area to a commercial retail center," Mastry said.

"I can't imagine anybody thinking this site is suitable for residential or even for a school or a church," Mastry said. "It might have been 40 years ago when the church moved there, but there are few intersections in this entire county more (traffic) intense than this intersection."

Countered resident Helen Ford, "I know progress is taking over, but it doesn't have to wipe out our area. . . . We don't need another drugstore and we don't need commercial there. We beg you."

Other residents said they worry that the drugstore would create a traffic hazard for children walking to Seminole Elementary. They said they are concerned about truck traffic and noise and about future uses of the site.

"What happens two or three years down the road when it is no longer feasible to have a drugstore on every corner?" asked neighbor Kari Barcome. "What goes in there then?"

Barcome said she and her neighbors are fighting the best way they can.

"Our neighborhood is a very modest neighborhood," she said. "If we were talking about half-million-dollar homes, we would all have high-powered attorneys here representing us. We don't have high-powered attorneys. We have ourselves."

Mastry argued that the drugstore actually would improve the Seminole neighborhood's traffic problems. All entry and egress for the church and school now occur on 113th Lane, he said. The drugstore would close off that side of the property with a landscaped wall. Entries would be on Park and 113th.

A driveway from 74th Avenue also is planned across the county's water tank property. In exchange for the access, CVS would give the county about three-quarters of an acre from the back side of the church property.

"This is going to result in less traffic in the residential neighborhood," he said.

If the sale of its current property goes through, the church plans to buy 4.7-acres on the southwest corner of Park Boulevard and 125th Street, about a mile west of the current site. A new church and school would be built there.

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