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Diocese to pick new site for school

The Roman Catholic Church has canceled its contract to buy land off East Lake Road for an elementary school and is scouting for another site.

The school, planned for growing populations of children on both sides of Lake Tarpon, would have gone on 22 acres just south of the Boot Ranch subdivision.

But on Tuesday, the church's St. Petersburg Diocese canceled plans to buy the land because the school would have had to pay $18,000 in fees to a Boot Ranch homeowners association, said James A. Sebesta, executive director of real estate and construction for the diocese.

"That's a big figure for a brand-new school to swallow," Sebesta said.

He said the diocese already is looking for another site in the same general area, but plans to begin classes in 1995 are jeopardized.

"It'll be a squeeze now," Sebesta said.

Brian Taub, project manager with Boot Ranch Partnership, declined to comment about the homeowners' fee.

Sebesta said it would have paid for maintenance of a retention pond, median strips, the entrance onto East Lake Road shared by the property and the Boot Ranch neighborhoods and other common areas, plus some liability insurance.

Sebesta said the land is zoned for apartments as part of the Boot Ranch development. It would have needed a zoning change for a school.

Daniel Gospodarski, who lives in Boot Ranch, said Wednesday that he had mixed emotions as the latest news spread through his neighborhood.

Gospodarski had written a letter to county commissioners urging them to block the school.

He said the letter represented the views of about 10 neighbors who want the site to stay undeveloped.

But he said he warned his neighbors that that hope might be unrealistic and a school might be better than the alternative.

"We'd like to keep the community the way it is, not expand it," Gospodarski said.

But he said he personally expects the property to be developed someday and thinks many other land uses _ apartments, condominiums or a shopping center, for example _ would bring worse traffic than a school.

Patty Owen, a board member of the Eagle Trace Homeowners Association in Boot Ranch, said she was relieved. She said her members were worried that traffic converging on a school twice daily would prompt people to take shortcuts through Eagle Trace.

Wherever the diocese builds a school, it is to accommodate 150 pupils. It would be enlarged in phases to accommodate 400 by the year 2000, Sebesta said.

The school would join 30 others managed by the diocese in its five counties: Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus.