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    Fruit stand may give way to townhomes

    An overgrown lot near Clearwater may become home to 13 townhomes and be annexed by the city.

    By BRIAN MOORE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 15, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Neighbors have watched the abandoned 1.77-acre lot at 2492 Belleair Road deteriorate for more than 10 years.

    Weeds and grass have grown out of control, and a small building that once housed a fruit stand is revealing years of nature's beating. Its shingles are battered, its gutters so bent they would barely hold a pitcher of water, much less a torrential rain. The spray-painted words "Tomatoes' and "Sweet Onions' on the building stand out above 4-foot weeds.

    But within four months, neighbors of the lot near South Haven Drive and Ambrosia Drive could see the area transformed. A three-man Pinellas Park group is planning construction of a two-building, 13-townhome development.

    "I think townhomes would do nothing but bring the neighborhood up," said Kim Pearson, who can see the vacant lot from her house on South Haven. "I'd much rather see that than what's there now."

    Pearson's thoughts on the development represent the consensus of the neighborhood. When Clearwater city planner Ryan Givens sent notices about the project to residents near the property in March, he didn't get a single negative response.

    Belleair Townhouse Partners Inc., will build eight units in a 12,279-square-foot building. Five townhomes will be in another building measuring 7,681 square feet. Both will be two stories high. Each townhome will feature a two-car garage, three bedrooms and a covered patio area. It will be a gated-entry complex.

    The project will cost about $2-million, and the townhomes will sell for about $180,000 to $200,000, according to Alberto Baraybar, one of the partners.

    "I think the townhomes are going to do well in that area," Baraybar said. "They're clearly marketed for that particular individual that isn't looking for a big complex, but privacy."

    Baraybar said he and his partners bought the property last August from First Baptist Church in New Port Richey. Neighbors say about a decade ago, the fruit stand closed and the building fell into disrepair.

    Now the property, which lies in an unincorporated area, is close to being annexed by Clearwater. City commissioners unanimously voted last week to annex the property. The commission will consider it again, for final approval, Thursday. City planners and the three property owners in the partnership have agreed that the townhomes will operate on Largo sewer lines. There are no Clearwater sewer lines near the property, and it's more cost-efficient for the townhomes to tie in with Largo, according to Clearwater planner Lochen Wood.

    Construction cannot begin until the builders are issued a development order by the city's Development Review Committee. That order is needed to acquire a building permit. The annexation must be approved before a development order is made.

    The townhome lot borders the 51-unit Coach Mobile Home Park. Many of the park's residents are seasonal, and more than half are now at summer homes in the northern United States. Although the new buildings will be significantly larger than the mobile homes, park manager Hazel Stuart welcomes the plan.

    Other residents, though supportive of the project, expressed concern about their own property being annexed into Clearwater in the future. Herb Kuenn, who sees the overgrown lot from his house on Ambrosia Drive, said he couldn't think of anything better than townhomes for the lot's use. But he adamantly opposes being incorporated into the city.

    "That's why I moved here 30 years ago," he said, "because it wasn't in the city."

    Lisa Fierce, development review manager for the planning department, said Kuenn and others have nothing to worry about. Areas are usually only annexed voluntarily, or if landowners file an application for annexation.

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