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Board approves church's site plan

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 9, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- At Wednesday's Environmental Development Commission meeting, Lakewood residents stood one after one to protest what might happen on vacant land owned by Bethel Community Baptist Church after all currently planned construction is finished.

Previous neighborhood protests defeated both a proposed Wal-Mart and a Winn-Dixie on the 24-acre property that the church owns north of 54th Avenue S near 31st Street.

The church plans to move from its 16th Street S location to this new home, but neighbors had worried about the future of land not set for construction. The church plans a complex that would eventually include a 2,000-seat sanctuary, Christian school, full-size baseball field, nature preserve and trails.

The site plan approved Wednesday includes a 2-acre portion along 51st Avenue S that the church hopes to sell for a dozen single-family homes. In addition, two other smaller parcels along 54th Avenue S were designated for Mosher Chiropractic and the Heart and Vascular Institute, which would bracket the entrance to the church sanctuary.

The residents left the meeting still uncertain how the remaining undeveloped property will eventually be used. But the EDC did assure the residents that its approval of a preliminary plat and site plan did not give carte blanche development permission to the church.

The proposed plat and site plan, described as a "housekeeping matter," were required by the City Council before it would endorse an earlier EDC-approved vacation of 52nd Avenue S and 28th and 29th streets S between 51st and 52nd avenues S. Abandoning those unbuilt stretches would allow the church to consolidate all of its properties, separated by unimproved streets and alleys, and reduce its property tax bill. Church officials assured the EDC and residents it has no development plans for the vacant portion of the property beyond what is already known.

The church began its construction last fall and the first building, a prefabricated metal structure, soon rose on the property. To raise more money for the project, however, the church had temporarily halted construction this summer on the $1.4-million, 14,400-square-foot, multipurpose facility that will house a temporary 600-seat sanctuary.

Attempts to raise money by selling parcels or even the entire property it purchased for about $500,000 in 1995 have met with strong neighborhood opposition.

* * *

Each month the EDC meets to consider proposed development projects that require variances or site plan approval, or requests for alley or right-of-way easements. If the requests are not too far out of line with city codes, the EDC will recommend approval to the City Council -- providing the developer includes substantial green space and other changes to improve the project's appearance.

Among other items considered Wednesday were:

OFFICE BUILDING EXPANSION: The EDC approved a First Avenue S curb cut associated with a site plan calling for the expansion of an existing commercial building at 6340 Central Ave. A 1,150-square-foot addition is planned at the southwest corner of the Festive Occasions building, primarily for office space.

STREET VACATION: A 20-by-100-foot right of way at the corner 16th Street and 40th Avenue N was vacated by the EDC, setting the stage for the purchase of the city-owned property by Parsley Development Inc. for construction of an office building.

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