Tuesday, April 24, 2018
News Roundup

Saint Leo University eyes expansion but meets initial opposition

ST. LEO — Saint Leo University's plan to build a warehouse — part of a sweeping proposal to expand the campus west on State Road 52 — met stiff opposition Monday from residents and elected officials in the town of St. Leo and neighboring San Antonio.

The university purchased Holy Name Monastery last year and plans to acquire a nearly 12-acre slice of vacant property to the west that fronts S.R. 52, Pompanic Street and McMullen Drive, overlooking Lake Jovita. The property opens up potential for expansion of the school's west campus, which currently holds an admissions building, residence halls and a performing arts hall. The university is also pondering how to better connect the 53-acre west campus and its main 133-acre campus, which are divided by the St. Leo abbey church and residences of the Benedictine monks there.

The school released an "Athletics and Recreation Planning Study" in January that shows a focus on improving athletic and exercise facilities on the west campus, including a new 68,000-square-foot gymnasium and wellness center as well as soccer fields. Renderings also depict a lakefront amphitheater, boat house and retail space. The study discusses possible pathways linking the main and west campuses in addition to the existing access road parallel to S.R. 52.

University officials told the Times on Tuesday that while many ideas are being kicked around, nothing is set in stone.

"They really are conceptual at this point," said university spokesman Kim Payne.

But an initial proposal the university hoped to get approved by the St. Leo Town Commission hit a wall of opposition Monday from residents from both St. Leo and San Antonio who packed the town hall. The school wants to build a 13,000-square-foot plant operations warehouse and office space that would funnel truck traffic onto McMullen Drive, which provides public lake access, and Pompanic Street, a bucolic residential road lined with large houses.

Officials from the two cities say the roads can't handle such heavy use.

"Those roads are in no way suitable for truck traffic," said St. Leo Mayor Jack Gardner.

Both McMullen and Pompanic are in the town limits of St. Leo, but San Antonio splits ownership and maintenance of the streets.

Because of that, St. Leo attorney Patricia Petruff said she has "very grave" concerns over approving the new warehouse without San Antonio's blessing.

St. Leo's small town hall was standing room only with San Antonio residents and representatives fighting the plan. One woman expressed concern for two little boys who often take a canoe down McMullen to get to the lake, while another fretted losing quiet morning cups of coffee on her porch.

San Antonio Mayor Tim Newlon told the commission he would like to see the university find another access route to the facility using S.R. 52.

Others questioned why the university moved away from its initial plan to build the plant operations facility fronting S.R. 52.

"Why build these two driveways on these two roads when you have 1,200 feet of frontage of S.R. 52?" asked Greg Smith, who lives on Pompanic.

An architect representing the university, Daniel Fowler, told the crowd he did not know why the university changed where it wanted to build the facility, adding he would relate the opposition to university officials.

Payne said Tuesday that the existing maintenance and operations center has outgrown its space in the heart of the campus, which officials want to use for education purposes. The new property would allow moving those operations to the outskirts of campus and keep truck access off S.R. 52.

St. Leo commissioners ultimately tabled the university's request until the San Antonio City Commission weighs in. The unanimous vote brought a roomful of applause.

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