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    A Times Editorial

    Commissioners do their homework on church project

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 8, 2000

    Sometimes people who lived through the creation and implementation of Florida's Growth Management Act in the mid 1980s can be heard grumbling about government's different attitude toward growth in 2000.

    Where, such people ask, is government's concern about making sure that the public infrastructure -- roads, sewer and the like -- is adequate before a new development is approved? That concern sometimes seems near the bottom of government officials' priority list, well behind economic development, creation of new jobs, redevelopment of older neighborhoods and construction of affordable housing, to name a few apparent high-ranking concerns.

    That's why it was refreshing to watch the Pinellas County Commission -- that's right, the Pinellas County Commission -- in action Tuesday.

    The county officials were being asked to approve a land use change from residential to institutional on an east Clearwater property that Calvary Baptist Church wants to develop.

    Calvary Baptist wishes to move from its cramped location on Clearwater's downtown waterfront to 17 acres on the southwest corner of Drew Street and McMullen-Booth Road. The church plans to build a 65,000-square-foot sanctuary, a private high school and a large day care center on the property.

    Traffic studies indicated that the new development would add 1,100 to 1,300 vehicle trips per day to the roads surrounding the site.

    Before the church could move, the County Commission had to sign off on the land use change. The city of Clearwater supported Calvary's move, even agreeing to swap some land with the church to permit the new development to go forward. The state wrote a letter saying it does not object to the project.

    But county commissioners did have a concern about the traffic impact that the new development would bring, especially on F-rated McMullen-Booth Road. They insisted on having a role in negotiating a mitigation plan with the church.

    In almost four hours of debate and negotiations during their meeting Tuesday, county commissioners obtained a verbal agreement from the church to make several road improvements to handle increased traffic. But that wasn't good enough. Commissioners, not willing to seal the deal with just a handshake among the parties, sent church and city government representatives up to the county attorneys' offices to put the agreement in writing.

    Two hours later, commissioners had a hand-printed document that committed the church to build turn lanes on Drew Street and Bayview Avenue and to close one of the driveways to the property from McMullen-Booth Road. The church also will have to pay transportation impact fees that can be used by local government to build any other necessary road improvements.

    Way to go, commissioners.

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