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Westchase gets nod for library

Commissioners choose a site in a residential area along Countryway Boulevard over busy Race Track Road.

By LOGAN D. MABE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 20, 2001


TAMPA -- For nearly two years, Westchase residents lobbied hard for a new library in their community. County commissioners rewarded their work Wednesday, voting 7-0 to build a library there along Countryway Boulevard.

The Library Advisory Board had recommended another site, on Race Track Road, but commissioners were unsettled by the fact it was in a proposed industrial park on a busy highway.

"This is a great merry Christmas present," said a beaming Patricia Pekala of Westchase, treasurer of the Upper Tampa Bay Friends of the Library chapter.

"It's fantastic," said chapter president Maureen Gauzza, who led the effort and lives in Westchase. "I'm happy for the people's choice being chosen, and for the commissioners listening."

At previous public meetings, the Countryway Boulevard site was a decided favorite among Westchase residents because the property is within the development. The Library Board favored the site at Race Track Road and Lynmar Boulevard because it had greater visibility and cost less than the Countryway site.

County real estate officials negotiated a $799,000 sales price for the Lynmar site. The developer would also save $110,000 in impact fees that it would otherwise have to pay the county.

The Westchase site was priced at $700,000, and the county would have had to pay an additional $234,000 in assessments to the Westchase taxing district. To sweeten the deal, Westchase Community Development District members recently voted to deannex the 7.6-acre property. In doing so, they saved the county $62,000 a year in taxing district fees.

But commissioners were concerned with more than the bottom line. Commissioner Pat Frank wanted to know about traffic at the properties. Michael McCarthy from the county's public works department, said Race Track Road carries about 14,000 cars a day, compared to only about 4,000 on Countryway. Race Track Road also had a "higher risk of collision," McCarthy said.

Commissioner Jim Norman, who advocated the Westchase site, noted that it is easy to get there by car, bike and foot and has "100 percent accessibility" to local schools.

Commissioner Ronda Storms said she had six reasons for backing the Westchase site, including her concern for public safety. "I think it's safer for children and senior citizens to not be on a road called Race Track," Storm said. "And I think we need to reward community involvement."

"I think it's wonderful to see communities fighting for a library," Commissioner Jan Platt said.

-- Staff writer Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 226-3464 or at mabe@sptimes.com

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