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Landowner fights county zoning change

Claire Ten Hoeve barely clings to her dream for lots 4 and 5 of the Farmcrest Acres subdivision she and her late husband have developed since the 1960s.

The property, nearly 5 acres at the corner of Keystone Road and East Lake Drive, is vacant and zoned for commercial use. A convenience store/gas station would be the most likely tenant.

Mrs. Ten Hoeve, 59, views the parcel as her retirement nest egg and is on the verge of cashing it in.

But Pinellas County officials also are on the verge of something: downzoning her land to prohibit commercial development, forcing Mrs. Ten Hoeve to either build homes or leave the land vacant.

That would please neighbors who say they have got plenty of convenience stores. It infuriates Mrs. Ten Hoeve, who lives in Palm Harbor.

"There is a law that the public is not able to take away another person's property," a distraught Mrs. Ten Hoeve said.

"I thought that I was secure in owning this land . . . and that it would be my retirement."

The conflict: Mrs. Ten Hoeve's right to rely on a commercial zoning designation that has been on the land since 1953 versus neighbors' desires to do away with commercial construction in the heavily suburban and rural East Lake area.

County commissioners are scheduled to decide the case Tuesday. They discussed the case for two hours this week before delaying a decision while they try to reach a compromise.

Mrs. Ten Hoeve and her husband, Cornelius, bought 80 acres of commercially zoned land in East Lake in 1968 when much of the county's land was approved for business construction.

The Ten Hoeves decided not to build businesses. Starting in the early 1970s, when many East Lake homes had well water and dirt roads, they built homes on 2-acre lots with underground utility lines, county water and lantern-style street lights.

The Ten Hoeves were pioneers in responsible development, building large-lot homes when many other builders were squeezing more homes in smaller subdivisions, said Don Hall, Mrs. Ten Hoeve's attorney.

The Ten Hoeves told everyone who bought a lot from them that lots 4 and 5 would remain commercial. A brochure for the subdivision even discloses their intentions.

"Nobody could say we weren't honest about what we did there," Mrs. Ten Hoeve said.

Cornelius Ten Hoeve died in 1983. Mrs. Ten Hoeve said she received offers for the land after that but was too grief-stricken to deal with selling it. She also wanted to wait until the area grew enough to need a store on the site.

Now, she said, is that time. The area's population is growing quickly, and East Lake Road is on the verge of becoming a four-lane highway.

But that growth has seen a steady decline in the population density county officials want to see in East Lake. Years ago, many properties that would have allowed up to 7.5 homes per acre were downzoned to one home or less.

And residents have overwhelmingly told county officials they want less commercial area than was planned, County Administrator Fred Marquis said.

The county earlier this year began the process of changing Mrs. Ten Hoeve's zoning after winning court battles about commercial development along Keystone and East Lake roads. Many residents, including those in the Citizens Action League civic group, said they were willing to travel to either U.S. 19 or to a planned shopping center at Ridgemoor on East Lake Road to get their shopping done.

People living in Mrs. Ten Hoeve's subdivision even signed petitions saying they wanted her zoning changed.

There is another convenience store just to the west of the Ten Hoeve property, said Tim Cummings, who gathered 22 signatures in favor of the downzoning.

During a meeting Tuesday night, county commissioners weren't wild about another convenience store or gas station being built in East Lake.

But Commissioner Steve Seibert said even though he doesn't like the prospect, he will vote to support Mrs. Ten Hoeve's commercial zoning. "I don't think we have the right to take this designation away," Seibert said.

Other commissioners were less inclined to side with Mrs. Ten Hoeve. Commission Chairman Charles Rainey suggested a compromise, giving the property a zoning designation that would allow doctors' or lawyers' offices.

The commission gave Mrs. Ten Hoeve one week to respond to the offer. If she says no, she takes her chances with an uncertain commission vote.

Mrs. Ten Hoeve said she hasn't made up her mind and isn't very happy about the offer.

"What choice do I have?" she said. "I have no choice."

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