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Greater Pinellas Point neighborhood considers getting smaller, more neighborly

ST. PETERSBURG — Sometime in May, a large number of those who live at Pinellas County's southern tip could be booted from their neighborhood association.

Whether they'll care is another matter.

That perceived indifference is the reason the Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association has decided to drastically downsize the far-flung neighborhood.

The news was announced in a recent newsletter.

"After careful consideration, the board has decided that it cannot do an effective job for the entire spread-out neighborhood … and must reduce the area's size,'' said an article accompanied by a map of the redrawn boundaries.

Only 250 of the neighborhood's nearly 20,000 residents belong to the association. In May, members will be asked to approve the boundary change.

The proposal, said association president Judy Hunt at a sparsely attended meeting, is about "taking on the bite that we can chew.''

The new bite-sized neighborhood would exclude scores of apartment dwellers along 54th Avenue S in the geographic lancing that begins several blocks south. Gone would be a couple of fading shopping centers, Lakewood High School and nearby Blessed Trinity Catholic Church, where the association now meets. Also to fall outside the new neighborhood are the homes of City Council member Steve Kornell and seven-year Greater Pinellas Point board member Jodi Davis.

"It really hurts. ... It's divisive,'' said Davis, who was emotional as she spoke at the March meeting.

The mother of four small children, who said she has missed recent meetings because of her schedule, blamed the moribund association on its leaders' reluctance to embrace technology and address issues important to young families.

Susana Creft, who has rarely gone to the meetings, made a point to attend after reading about the proposed change. She lives on the wrong side of 66th Avenue S, which makes up much of the new northern boundary, Creft said.

"It's not that people don't care; it's just that people are very consumed with their time. I'm a single mom, and I'm working hard. By the time I get home, I'm dead,'' she said.

"I feel like I'm going to be left out of what is a great organization, in a great area.''

Barbara Hawkins helped to start the association in 1973 and served as its president. She too opposes the new boundaries and is working with Davis and a few others to keep the neighborhood unified.

"I don't think that cutting down the size of the neighborhood is going to bring forward more leaders or enable them to deal with more issues,'' she said.

"What this is really designed to do is to make our neighborhood association relevant,'' said Hunt, who described its current area as "an amorphous blob."

"I have great sympathy for those who are upset,'' she said. "It's easy for people who don't participate to say, you should do a better job. I think one of the reasons we don't have enough participation is that we're not as defined as we should be.''

Gerry Lembke, the association's treasurer, agrees. "There's no sense of identity. ... If you have a neighborhood that large, you don't know who your neighbors are.''

Those who attended the March meeting heard of the area's problems, including rising crime, foreclosures, empty houses and troubled apartment complexes. The group is running out of money. A major expense is the newsletter, which is mailed to about 3,500 owner-occupied homes.

Membership continues to decline and for a year, there was no president. Hunt, recruited for the position about a year ago, said she has tried to build interest.

The last straw was last year's Christmas party. The association bought presents for more than 200 children, sent postcard reminders to neighborhood homes, delivered invitations to area schools and preschools and hired a song-and-dance troupe.

Organizers need not have worried about what to do when the presents ran out. Fewer than 50 people showed up, among them about 15 children.

Association leaders hope the new boundaries will create a more intimate community. There is talk of installing block captains and of holding garage sales, picnics, charitable events and even card parties in front of neighbors' homes.

The scaled-down area will be bounded by Tampa Bay on the south and take in the more than 4 miles of the pink concrete streets off Pinellas Point Drive, along with Bay Vista and Forrest Bluff parks, Westminster Suncoast retirement community and St. Matthew's Episcopal Church.

Hunt doesn't promise overnight change.

"In five to eight years, you're going to see a real difference in this neighborhood," she said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

Greater Pinellas Point neighborhood considers getting smaller, more neighborly 04/11/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 10:11am]
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