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    County gives church green light to move

    Calvary Baptist Church is allowed to move to Countryside after detailing in writing what it will do to ease traffic problems at its new home.

    By EDIE GROSS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000


    CLEARWATER -- After four hours of wrangling among county, Clearwater and church officials, a handwritten compromise paved the way Tuesday for Calvary Baptist Church's move from downtown Clearwater to nearly 17 acres in Countryside.

    The church's effects on traffic dominated the lengthy discussion in front of county commissioners, who had to sign off on a land-use change before the church could move to the southwest corner of McMullen-Booth Road and Drew Street.

    County projections and a traffic study by the church indicate that once the complex is built, another 1,100 to 1,300 cars a day will spill onto the surrounding roads, which already are overloaded.

    Although the church verbally agreed to several suggestions designed to reduce the problem, the county wanted something in writing.

    "I'm not comfortable knowing none of this is in writing yet," said Commissioner Susan Latvala. "I think it can be made to work; but I don't want to get it built and operating and then say, "Now what are we going to do about this problem?' I think we need some confidence we're not going to be stuck with a problem down the road."

    So after two hours on the topic, commissioners asked representatives from the city and the church to go upstairs with Assistant County Attorney Jim Bennett and work out a legally binding agreement.

    The group, which included Clearwater Assistant Planning Director Cyndi Hardin and church attorney Tom Nash II, returned two hours later with a neatly printed agreement. Commissioners then agreed 6-0 to change the land use from residential to institutional so the church could relocate. Commissioner Bob Stewart was absent.

    "We're happy with it," Nash said after the vote. "It's a good plan for everybody."

    The church complex will include a 65,000-square-foot sanctuary, a 300-student high school and a 110-student day care.

    Calvary Baptist agreed to the following conditions. What they will cost has yet to be figured.

    The church will pay for and build a right-turn lane on Drew Street for eastbound traffic turning into the church. It also will build a left turn lane for westbound traffic on Drew Street turning into the church.

    On Bayview Avenue, on the property's west boundary, the church will build a right-turn lane into the church for northbound traffic.

    The church will close the northern driveway from its property onto McMullen-Booth Road and use only the southern driveway. That driveway will allow access only to the service road along McMullen-Booth Road and not onto the main roadway. The church also will build a southbound right-turn lane for church traffic there.

    The church will have to pay transportation impact fees to the city and the county, though the figure has yet to be negotiated. Clearwater and the county agreed to use the money to build a southbound right-turn lane from McMullen-Booth Road onto Drew Street, if needed.

    Ordinarily, the city would have negotiated the traffic agreement with the church because the property is in Clearwater. But since the county had to sign off on the land-use change, it demanded a say in that agreement.

    At one point, commissioners considered delaying approval several weeks, but that could have pushed the project back several months, Hardin said. Local governments can only submit changes to their land-use plans to the state Department of Community Affairs twice a year, Hardin said.

    If the county delayed its approval, the city would not be able to secure state approval until sometime next year, she said. As it is, the state has submitted a letter of no objection to the city. City commissioners are scheduled to vote for a final time on the church's move Dec. 12.

    The project is all part of a land swap with the city of Clearwater approved by voters in July. In addition to 11.8 acres the church owns at Drew Street and McMullen-Booth Road, the city is giving the church a 4.9-acre softball facility, called Chesapeake Park, just south of the property.

    In exchange, the church will give the city a 5-acre vacant tract that the church has a contract to buy about a half-mile west on Drew Street. The church also agreed to pay up to $330,000 to build the city a softball facility there.

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