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Little by little, Lealman could see improvements

LEALMAN — Decrepit houses. Narrow, crumbling streets. Not enough fire hydrants. These are just a few of the problems that continue to plague the unincorporated Lealman area. Now, the county wants to take another stab at breathing life into the area.

But any rejuvenation will cost millions, which is money Pinellas doesn't have right now. So officials say they'll do the work a little at a time and rely mostly on grant money and community involvement to get the job done, They say it will take years to finish the work.

"It's going to be challenging," said Armanda Lampley of Pinellas County's community development department, which is spearheading the redevelopment.

The project is in its earliest phases. Lealman residents have provided guidance on the problems they see in the community and an engineering firm has identified issues. Engineers are scheduled to submit a report in August that will outline proposed improvements and their estimated cost.

The unincorporated Lealman area, which lies roughly between Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg and on either side of Kenneth City, has long been a target for rejuvenation. Pinellas officials first came into the community about 11 years ago and began working with activists to come up with a vision of what residents wanted the area to look like. They worked with community activists and concentrated most efforts on a portion of Lealman that lies between 40th and 54th avenues N and 34th and 49th streets.

Those efforts have produced some successes: The portion of Lealman east of Kenneth City has the only unified garbage service in unincorporated Pinellas. Fire hydrants were installed. Several districts were set up to provide street lights in parts of the area. Lealman Park, on 54th Avenue N, just west of 34th Street was cleaned up and refurbished. The county bought about 38 acres to form Joe's Creek Greenway Park at 4303 46th Ave. N. More than 825 tons of trash was taken out of the area during several community cleanups.

Most recently, the county condemned three buildings that had multiple, long-standing code violations. Those will be razed.

But problems linger: Some streets are so narrow and have such steep ditches that firefighters can't pull to the side of the road and get out without falling into a ditch. Vandalism and graffiti have taken their toll at the Joe's Creek park. Trash and debris are still problems. The water quality in Joe's Creek is poor.

"It's affecting the wildlife that's there," Lampley said.

All that will be taken care of in the next few years if all goes right. Many residents and the county envision better streets, sidewalks, ditches that aren't dangerous and clean water in Joe's Creek.

"This is exciting," said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, adding that it was important to make sure the little money that is available remains earmarked for Lealman improvements.

"I cringe every time I hear the dollars might go somewhere else," Welch said.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Little by little, Lealman could see improvements 07/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 14, 2012 5:31am]
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