CARVER CITY — In recent years, a small neighborhood in one of Tampa's busiest business districts has looked like a thriving, growing community. It boasts an expanding microbrewery that serves a growing national fan base and a shopping complex that includes Home Depot, Target, Whole Foods, PetSmart and, most recently, Nordstrom Rack. A group of apartment complexes also has sprung up nearby.
But that rose-colored view is from the outside looking in. Ask some of the 2,200 residents who live in the hundreds of small, older homes behind these newer businesses and complexes, and they'll tell you they feel suffocated by growth.
Homeowners in Carver City-Lincoln Gardens are surrounded by some of Tampa's most used roads, including Dale Mabry Highway, West Shore Boulevard and Cypress Street, with Spruce Street cutting right through the heart of the community. They see shoppers cutting through their side streets, parking in front of their houses and clogging streets to the point that some can't even back out of their driveways.
"It's difficult for me to get out because of the traffic, particularly during the evening or early morning," said Thelma Davis, the neighborhood association's secretary. She stands near her mailbox to watch for the traffic to slow before she jumps in her car and backs out onto Lois Avenue. "Spruce Street is horrible. Lois is practically used as a raceway."
Construction trucks rumble past residents' houses, leaving potholes in their wake.
"You know where Carver City-Lincoln Gardens is located?" asked Reginald Williams, neighborhood association treasurer. "Well that should explain it right there. That's basically it. Businesses moving in on us, opening on us, multiple apartment complexes opening … and they're constantly building more."
Over the past decade, the neighborhood, which doesn't even span a square mile, grew 25 percent, according to 2010 census estimates. There's an imbalance between the level of new development moving in on the neighborhood's outskirts and the level of street, sewer and other types of improvements needed to keep up with the growth, residents say.
They brought many of these issues to Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who attended a neighborhood meeting this month. City officials say they understand the frustration.
"Just given the location they're in and the development that's occurring and given people have lived in that neighborhood for a long period of time, things have changed," said Jean Duncan, Tampa's transportation manager, "and one thing that's changed is traffic with how many cars are going through."
City officials say they're working on a laundry list of neighborhood improvements but are constrained by a tight budget. A neighborhood drainage study is under way. Potholes are getting filled. Pipes are being installed to drain a problem area near a school, costing the city $100,000.
"We are actively making those repairs," Tampa Public Works Director Irv Lee said. "When the kids come back to school in the fall, they won't have to walk in the water anymore."
Duncan said Spruce Street traffic will be studied this fall while other intersection concerns are being noted. The city also plans to launch a parking study to determine whether customers visiting the growing Cigar City brewery are plaguing the neighborhood, as some residents suggest.
Two years ago, the neighborhood unsuccessfully fought the local microbrewery's application for a controversial wet-zoning license that allowed it to keep a beer tasting room, which residents worried would bring the problems of a bar into the neighborhood. While residents acknowledge those predictions never materialized at Cigar City, 4005 W Spruce St., they say traffic from the brewery is putting stress on residential streets.
The brewery just completed an expansion that more than quadrupled the number of barrels Cigar City can crank out. But owner Joey Redner said that growth shouldn't affect neighborhood traffic since it won't bring in more customers.
He said the brewery has been working hard to be a good neighbor. Cigar City has 66 parking spaces and leases another 300 for big events. No more than twice a year does Cigar City hold events that outstretch its lots — though one of those annual events, Hunahpu's Day, drew about 5,000 people in March.
"We work really hard to minimize the impact of our events," Redner said. "I can definitely see their point-of-view in general, that they feel squeezed, but it's not fair to say that we're contributing. Certainly there's some impact but if you look at everything in the neighborhood, what are we? One percent of the traffic? A half percent? More people are going to walk out of Home Depot in a day than will walk into our brewery."
Maurice Harvey, president of the Carver City/Lincoln Gardens Civic and Homeowners Association, said he has nothing personal against the brewery. He calls Redner "good business people."
But that's exactly where the problems originate for his neighborhood.
The better the business does, the more the neighborhood gets squeezed.
"We give a lot and get little in return," Harvey said.
Justin George can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3368.