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Planners reject proposed Shady Hills church

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 15, 2000


SHADY HILLS -- For pastor Arthur Garcia, the church he planned to erect on County Line Road in Shady Hills was a vision from God.

For dozens of neighbors who would live near "The Father's House," it was a vision of snarled traffic and falling property values.

On Wednesday, the Pasco County Planning Commission stunned Garcia by rejecting his special exception request to build the prefabricated steel church at County Line Road and Lansford Drive in Shady Hills.

The planners were reacting to community sentiment represented by Dawn West. West, who lives in the Oak Lake subdivision, complained that cars from the 120 church members would flood Lansford Drive, her neighborhood's only entrance, with unwanted traffic.

"We will virtually be prisoners in our community," West said.

Other neighbors argued the 6,000-square-foot prefabricated church would look like a warehouse, dampening property values on their homes, most worth between $150,000 and $300,000.

Garcia promised to try to shift the church entrance to County Line Road in a futile attempt to please the planning commission.

"When they object to it and it's their own neighborhood, I just can't support it," planning commissioner Gary Blackwell said.

The Father's House, a ministry of the Church of God, already runs a church on County Line Road, one lot over from the proposed site.

With his membership growing from 70 families to 120 families, Garcia said he needed a bigger worship hall. The corner lot with 2.8 acres fit the bill.

Garcia complained that county officials urged him not to bring his supporters to the meeting. When he arrived at the Old County Courthouse in Dade City, however, the meeting room was brimming with 30 opponents.

Garcia's only supporter at the meeting was Earl Harrigan, a pastor from Shady Hills, who told several neighbors after the meeting that they were bucking the will of God.

"I think God is up there saying enough is enough," Harrigan said.

Garcia promised to appeal the planning commission's rejection at a future county commissioners meeting.

"I don't know how I should address this," he said. "The Lord will give me directions."

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