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North Pinellas neighborhoods hope to protect against annexation with community overlay

East Lake Woodlands residents soundly squashed Oldsmar's March bid to annex more than 2,000 acres of their community.

But the fight isn't over yet.

Homeowners in the Council of North County Neighborhoods plan to build a new line of defense: a community overlay that would protect East Lake's unincorporated borders against future city bids.

Council leaders say the overlay would broadly state shared values and concerns regarding density, zoning and development, the aspects most often represented by city governments.

"This is our way of defining the area and asking, 'What is East Lake?' " said council president Don Ewing, 58. "We're one community, and this would just define the character of the area."

The overlay would likely resemble an initiative by Tierra Verde residents in 2007 that defined themselves as a "cohesive island community," written in the months before St. Petersburg's attempt at annexation.

That bid, like voters' 92 percent rejection of Oldsmar's attempt, failed in the face of a loud public outcry.

Creating an overlay similar to Tierra Verde's will take time, Ewing said.

That community has 3,500 residents, about a tenth of East Lake's population. Getting everyone to agree will take months, if not years.

"The plan covers everything, or tries to," he said. "We'll be reaching out to businesses, Rotary clubs, government, schools, the whole shebang."

Council vice president Ron Schultz, 43, said homeowners and businesspeople, though differing on the details, will likely agree on what county documents call "community character."

"They just want to make sure they don't have further chunks of our little area taken out of the East Lake corridor. If you lose residents . . . you lose a little more clout in your neighborhood," Schultz said. "This is what we want to maintain. As long as we stay within those guidelines, it's okay."

If approved by the County Commission, the overlay would be adopted into the county's Comprehensive Plan, which forms the basis for county rule on capital, land use and infrastructure.

Outside influences such as developers or cities would need to pass an amendment before they could divert from the plan.

"When a group of 33,000 residents like East Lake gets together and decides this is the vision we have for our area," said Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield, "it's local government's job to respond in kind."

Ewing said the council, a group of more than 150 North Pinellas homeowners associations that represents 14,000 residents, has designated the overlay's creation as one of the most important goals for the year.

Though the overlay is still in its infancy, Ewing said, council leaders have asked residents in person and on their Web site "what differentiates the quality of life in East Lake from other areas of the county" and "what prompted you to move here" instead of cities like Tarpon Springs, Tampa or Oldsmar.

"It's figuring out what we want," Schultz said, "and maintaining what we already have."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

fast facts

What's next

The Council of North County Neighborhoods will meet Monday at 7 p.m. at Tarpon Springs' Crescent Oaks Country Club at 3300 Crescent Oaks Blvd. Homeowners in the council's member associations, who pay $50 annual dues, are welcome to attend. To join, visit www.cncnpc.org or contact Ron Schultz at (727) 488-3030.

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North Pinellas neighborhoods hope to protect against annexation with community overlay 06/13/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 13, 2009 1:38pm]
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