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Store is signal of growth // Jewel Osco opens in Boot Ranch area

Jewel Osco, Florida's newest megastore for food and drugs, quietly opened its doors last week, bringing a flood of neon lights and pastel colors to a former cow pasture at the Boot Ranch. The unheralded opening signals the arrival of the next blast of growth in this thriving residential area, where residents have resisted efforts to create more commercial zones among the trees and homes of northeast Pinellas.

The 75,000-square-foot store is part of the first phase of the Shoppes of Boot Ranch, a project that is to include an Eckerd drug store and perhaps a Target discount department store by mid-1991.

"It is a growth area of Pinellas County," said Timothy Lanier, the local representative of the Dallas-based Rosewood Property Co., the developer of the center. "With all that growth, there was a need for service."

Little land is available for new business construction in the

unincorporated area east of Lake Tarpon. Other than the Shoppes of Boot Ranch at East Lake and Tampa roads, the only commercial zones left are 38 acres at the entrance to the Ridgemoor subdivision and five acres in front of East Lake High School.

County officials and residents have said, often and loudly, that amount of commercial land is enough to handle the thousands of people who are predicted to move into the area in the next 20 years.

East Lake once was nothing but cattle ranches, fish camps and dirt roads. But the area has experienced some of the fastest population and residential-construction growth in Pinellas in recent years.

Now more than 10,000 people live in the East Lake Tarpon Fire Control District. County planners predict 40,000 people will live there by 2010, many of them in Lansbrook, the 4,000-acre development that recently revived its long-delayed plans.

Jewel Osco and other businesses coming to the area are a reflection of growth, business people say. Until now, residents had to shop either at the Publix supermarket at East Lake Woodlands or drive to Oldsmar or Palm Harbor along roads not meant for so much traffic.

The store at Boot Ranch is the chain's fourth outlet in the Tampa Bay area and is part of a fight among supermarket companies to snare a segment of Florida's growing market.

Until Wednesday, the store will be open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. After that, it will be open 24 hours a day.

Lanier, of Rosewood Property, said an Eckerd drug store is expected to join the Jewel Osco by this fall. Other businesses, such as an Amoco gasoline station and a SouthTrust Bank, will be part of the shopping center's 100,000-square-foot first phase.

"And we are working with Target for the other end (of the Shoppes of Boot Ranch) and expect an announcement later in the spring," Lanier said.

None of these projects is likely to be affected by the county's

growth-management requirements, which halt growth in areas where roads and other services are inadequate.

That is because although East Lake Road is a daytime nightmare for

motorists, the county has committed money to build an overpass at the Boot Ranch and widen the road in the next 18 months.

But wider roads will not mean more businesses north of the Boot Ranch.

Although the Lansbrook Development Corp. has the right to construct a similar-size shopping center at Ridgemoor, no plans are in the works, Stacey Beyer, a vice president for the company, has said.

The county has challenged all other efforts to expand commercial

development in East Lake, hoping to avoid the jungle of strip centers that afflict U.S. 19. For example, Pinellas is fighting a lawsuit, brought by developers who wanted to change the residential zoning on the southeast corner of East Lake and Keystone roads to allow a shopping center.

So, the Shoppes at the Boot Ranch might be the last commercial development the area sees for a few years, county officials say.