OLDSMAR — Joe Osmani and his wife, Susan, chose to open Joe's Produce Market at the Forest Lakes Village Center because they knew it would get a lot of business in the Tampa Road corridor.
"It's very busy here,'' Osmani said. "Business is good. We're selling lots of Plant City strawberries and lots of tomatoes, lots of pretty much everything.''
By the end of this year, business at the center, on the southeast corner of Forest Lakes Boulevard and Tampa Road, could get even busier.
The Oldsmar City Council has approved a site plan for a Thorntons convenience store and gas station at the shopping center. Though there are six Thorntons stores in the Tampa Bay market, this will be Oldsmar's first.
The owners of the Forest Lakes Village Center include Nick and George Pappas, who also operate Flamestone American Grill in Oldsmar and Besa Grill in Clearwater, and Paul and Trifon Houvardas, owners of Foresight Property Services of Oldsmar. The group purchased the center for $2.9 million in 2006, according to Nick Pappas.
Approval for the Thorntons has not come easily. On Tuesday, the City Council devoted two hours to discussing the proposed site plan, including talk of color schemes and architectural compatibility.
Under the Tampa Road Corridor Plan and Architectural Standards added to the land development code in 2013, new businesses in the area are required to follow stringent standards, including this one: "Franchise architecture shall be prohibited in favor of unique solutions that will create a sense of visual continuity along the Tampa Road Corridor.''
Marie Dauphinais, city planning and redevelopment director, acknowledged last week that the center is in disrepair and needs redevelopment, but she recommended that the City Council deny the Thorntons application.
She said that even after Thorntons' design group heard concerns from the city staff on several occasions, it still submitted a plan that showed "lack of architectural harmony within the development and incompatibility with other development along the corridor.''
"This is franchise architecture," she said. "It would provide the business with an unfair advantage.''
Council member Linda Norris agreed and encouraged Thorntons to change some of its signature red paint to maroon. Council member Gabby McGee pointed out that if the black louvers on the building were switched to a light stone, that would soften the overall effect.
However, the conversation took a sharp turn when former mayor and newly appointed council member Jim Ronecker expressed his opinion.
"We have a parcel of land here that is looking to be developed that is an eyesore. It doesn't even meet our current land development codes, and we really need to be business friendly,'' he said. "We are beating these guys up who want to redevelop in our city, and I don't understand why.''
In the end, the City Council voted 5-0 in favor of the project, contingent on half a dozen conditions, including toning down the color scheme and adding embellishments like molding and parapets.
The owners of the 4-acre Forest Lakes Village Center plan to demolish two of the three buildings on the property. Several tenants that have been leasing space will move to another building owned by the Pappas and Houvardas families, the Oldsmar Town Center, at St. Petersburg Drive and Tampa Road.
After the meeting, Pappas said he thinks the conditions can be met.
"I don't have a problem with the rules. I understand where the city is coming from, I really do,'' he said. "When I was a kid, I'd come to Oldsmar to play soccer; there was nothing but land out here. Oldsmar is unique, and I think it is pro-business."
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.