EAST LAKE — Pinellas County has set its sights on a new location for north county ballfields: 100 acres on Old Keystone Road.
This time it's not in the Brooker Creek preserve, as two other proposals were, or on School Board property, as the most recently favored site at Keystone and East Lake roads is.
But it's still generating protest signs, a petition and controversy.
Neighbors on the south side of Old Keystone Road, who moved there for the quiet, rural life, have complained about noise, traffic, lights and more from the existing East Lake Youth Sports Complex. So they are outraged that the county might build even more ballfields on their two-lane road. And they are organizing to fight.
East Lake Youth Sports Association officials say they will be happy to expand their fields wherever the county sends them. The fields on 26 acres they own on Old Keystone Road are battered from overuse. But they do like the latest proposed location.
"It's right next to our current complex and it's more land (than at other proposed sites)," said Rick Watson, president of the East Lake Youth Sports Association.
The neighbors say they are not opposed to ballfields — their children play ball, too — but existing fields already detract from the tranquility of the neighborhood of 2-acre agricultural estates.
The land, part of the 871-acre Wilde property that the county is buying, is on an active wellfield.
Before the county can build ballfields, zoning changes will be needed.
And that means many public hearings.
If the County Commission decides to move forward, a planning department official said the zoning changes alone might take until early next year.
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Thursday morning on Old Keystone Road, a hawk looked for prey from atop a telephone pole, a turkey vulture scanned the roadside foliage and a pileated woodpecker warned intruders that they were in his territory.
Only the sounds of nature.
That's not how it is when the sports fields are occupied, the residents who live on the south side of the road say.
"Like having a loud radio on and not being able to turn it off," said Sue DiLenge, who lives there with her husband, two sons and 15 pets, including two goats and a flock of chickens.
DiLenge and her neighbors have a lot of concerns.
"Originally, they only wanted 38 (acres), so how come now it's 100?" said Shirley Muller, who lived there long before the first ballfield was built.
"What would the commissioners say if this was happening near them? If I knew where they lived, I would be in front of their house Saturday at 7 a.m. screaming 'Hot dogs!' 'Pizza!' "
County officials have said that if the ballfields are built, they will do everything they can to mitigate the impact on the neighbors. But residents are not convinced.
"Once the zoning is changed, all these mitigation promises won't be worth much," said Iris Harbert.
She outlined an alternative site for the fields: a strip of land on the eastern edge of the county.
But county officials say that is to be a north/south wildlife corridor and they plan to restore some of the land with forest to provide better habitat for travelling animals, maybe even put in an underpass for them.
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4170.