SEMINOLE — After years of wishing, hoping and guessing what stores might open in a rebuilt Seminole Mall, residents here have some names.
One of them — Earth Fare — is new to the Tampa Bay area. Earth Fare is a North Carolina-based chain of boutique grocery stores that concentrate on organic and natural foods. Representatives from Earth Fare could not be reached for comment. But the website, earthfare.com, says the company's philosophy can best be summed up in one word: "No."...
05/28/15 Human Interest
Civic leaders and community activists from across Pinellas have often gazed longingly at the acreage occupied by the county's schools and wished there was some way they could use those lands when they weren't occupied by students.
But the Pinellas County School District has been reluctant to let anyone else use its property. Now that's changing. The district has agreed to lease closed schools to other local governments. It's all about being a part of the community, school officials say....
LARGO — Officials here are struggling to find ways to pay for the hiring of more cops and firefighters and to pay for other city needs.
They've suggested creating new fees and raising existing ones to help fund their wish list. But what they find particularly frustrating is their inability to collect some fines that property owners owe — to the tune of $10 million.
That total comes from fines assessed to 259 property owners for failing to keep up their property. Some fines extend back for years. And they range from a few hundred dollars to more than $200,000....
05/20/15 Human Interest
PINELLAS PARK — When this city turned 100 a few weeks ago, officials had a rich trove of documents and artifacts to draw from when looking back.
That was in large part thanks to Jean Cromwell, who, until last month, reigned over Pinellas Park's Historical Society.
"She was it" where Pinellas Park's history was concerned, City Council member Ed Taylor said. "We wouldn't have anything archive-wise if it hadn't been for Jean." ...
05/13/15 Local Government
LARGO — Property owners here could see stormwater fees almost double over the next three years under a budget proposal for the coming fiscal year.
Commissioners gave the go-ahead to staff members Tuesday to bring back the proposal for a formal vote. The proposal, which would see the fees for stormwater increase by 25 percent a year for the next three years, is part of the $111.9-million capital budget proposed for the 2015-16 fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The capital budget deals with the costs of projects proposed for the coming five years....
05/09/15 Human Interest
Charles McGarrah vividly remembers the day he met the woman who would become his wife — and her first words:
"My name is Wanda Smith, and I will not live to see my 25th birthday."
McGarrah was inclined to argue with her. But just six short years later, she died three months shy of her 25th birthday.
She and the couple's 7-month-old daughter, MaNisha, died with 33 other people in a horrific accident that sent them plunging from the Sunshine Skyway when a freighter struck the bridge. On Saturday, 35 years to the day of the accident, a monument was dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives that day....
05/06/15 Human Interest
LEALMAN — About three years ago, a county study identified the five poorest areas in Pinellas.
Now Pinellas officials are considering trying something new — for them — to help lift the people in one of those areas out of poverty. If creating a community redevelopment area works in unincorporated Lealman, it could be expanded. Lealman is generally located between St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park on either side of Kenneth City. It generally extends from Interstate 275 on the east to Park Street on the west....
04/30/15 Local Government
PINELLAS PARK — One piece of advice many career counselors offer is to never follow a star when you take a new job.
Yet that's exactly what Pinellas Park's new police chief has done.
Mike Haworth took over command of the department last week from Dorene Thomas, a much-loved chief in the city and much respected in the law enforcement community, who straightened out a department that was mired in chaos when she took over....
04/24/15 Human Interest
LEALMAN — Seven years ago, community activists celebrated the opening of a project that they hoped would herald a new day of improved housing in this largely poor unincorporated area.
But the project, Duval Park, the first foray into residential construction by the Sembler Co., never got off the ground and the first four houses stood vacant for years. Now things are changing. Construction is in the home stretch on an 88-unit affordable housing complex designed to hold mostly veterans, disabled veterans and their families....
PINELLAS PARK — Acreage that once held a church and was destined to become a housing complex will be the site of a new charter school.
Pinellas Park council members approved a zoning change this month that will pave the way for the Plato Academy to open its seventh charter school in Pinellas. The School Board approved the school in June. It was to be located in St. Petersburg, in the area near Gandy Boulevard and Interstate 275, but that location fell through, so Plato moved to the Pinellas Park location. The School Board is scheduled to approve the new site at its April 28 meeting....
04/09/15 Local Government
LARGO — Commissioners here appear to be moving toward instituting a fire fee so they can free up budget money for police and other items.
They decided Tuesday to discuss the fee at a workshop after hearing a presentation by Ken Small of the Florida League of Cities on alternative funding sources.
Small pointed out that Largo has the second lowest per capita taxable value in Pinellas County. Only Kenneth City has a smaller per capita taxable value. That means that while Largo may be the third largest city by population, property values in the city are low. And that makes it hard to generate property taxes because it takes a higher tax rate to bring in the same money as a municipality with more valuable properties....
03/25/15 Local Government
LARGO — City leaders here have a problem that most people face in their daily lives — lots of wants and needs but not enough money to pay for them.
Unlike most city residents who find it hard to generate more money without a raise or a second job, the government has the option to simply raise taxes. Of course, then there's the prospect of pushback from angry property owners.
That's what city officials are facing right now. They want to hire almost 30 police officers, firefighters, code enforcement and support personnel for a one-time total of about $3.01 million added to the budget. City staff has proposed spreading the hiring over five years. Doing so would increase taxes 8 percent the first year, another 8 percent the second year, 6 percent in year three, 6 percent in year four and 7 percent in year five. That doesn't include the cumulative effect of the hiring the could, in the long run, make those figures go higher....
03/20/15 Local Government
LARGO — Commissioners generally agree the city needs more police and firefighters but they're struggling with ways to pay for them.
Those ways could include a property tax increase, a new fee for fire coverage, or a fee for businesses that frequently call for police help.
"There's a million scenarios here," said Henry Schubert, Largo assistant city manager.
For the past several months, Largo commissioners have said they want to look at public safety staffing. While all commissioners have been willing to study the issue, the major push has come from commission veteran Curtis Holmes and newcomers John Carroll and Donna Holck. Carroll is a former Largo police chief. Holck said during the campaign that firefighters had encouraged her to run....
03/13/15 Human Interest
LARGO — Maureen Freaney, the head of Pinellas County Animal Services, says she's leaving the job and county government because she's decided to move in a new direction.
"I made a two-year commitment to county administration to direct Animal Services, help stabilize the department, and ensure implementation of best practices," Freaney wrote Thursday in her resignation letter. "As that personal and professional commitment comes to a close, I am proud of what the Animal Services team has accomplished within this time frame....
03/12/15 Human Interest
PINELLAS PARK — Dogs and horses just seem to go together.
The pairing is so iconic that Budweiser has made the relationship between its famous Clydesdales and a lovable puppy the centerpiece of its Super Bowl ads for the past couple of years.
Yet it's the relationship between dogs and horses that's at the center of a controversy between dog lovers and some horse lovers in this city. It's a controversy that has one Pinellas Park council member saying he regrets ever supporting the horse community and the formation about 15 years ago of a city advisory board dedicated to horses....