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New Taco Bell breaks ground

(ran South edition)

Carol Billings is eager to meet her new neighbor. In fact, she plans to pop over for lunch or dinner as soon as things are settled.

"I'll be their first customer," she said of the Taco Bell going up at 5100 34th St. S, next to the Speedway gas station where she works. A fan of nachos and soft tacos, Billings has been watching with interest as the building sprouts on the once-empty land.

"I can't wait," she said with a smile.

The fast-food restaurant will become at least the 15th eatery along the stretch of 34th Street S between 38th and 54th avenues.

According to the Pinellas County Tax Appraiser's Office, the roughly 1-acre plot of land had been vacant at least since 1992 before it was sold to Taco Bell Corp. of Irvine, Calif., for $320,000. Its assessed value in 1995 was $175,800.

The former owners listed on the deed, filed with the clerk of court on July 1, are Edward Medley and William Schulz.

Medley, a prominent Tierra Verde landowner who owns the marina and a restaurant there, said Tuesday he has sold about 4 acres along 34th Street in the past 10 years. This was the last of those properties.

There are eight Taco Bell restaurants listed in the 1996 St. Petersburg phone book, though not all of them are in the city limits, said Lynda McDowell, manager of the Taco Bell at 5600 66th St. N. Her restaurant, for example, is in Kenneth City, she said.

Chad Clawson, assistant manager at Speedway, worries the new restaurant will mean more fender-benders.

"There's probably two accidents a day on that corner," he said, referring to 34th Street S and 54th Avenue S. "Now there's probably going to be three times as many."

The St. Petersburg Police Department has a record of just seven accidents in that area since Jan. 1. Officer Ken Kokotek of the traffic division said he could not predict how the new Taco Bell would affect traffic, but he did not think it would bring an onslaught of accidents.

"Extra traffic flow _ that always creates a problem," he said.