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Clearwater may pick side for Drew widening

The City Commission plans to meet with residents before deciding whether to purchase homes on only one side of the street to make room for the project.

The city is considering buying and demolishing about 25 houses on one side of Drew Street between Duncan and Highland avenues for a road-widening project _ a proposal city officials say will help keep the neighborhood alive.

They just haven't decided which side of the street to target.

Clearwater, along with the state, decided six years ago to acquire the front yards of the 50 or so houses on both sides of Drew Street in the six-block stretch. Now, city officials say leaving just 9 feet in front of the houses will be detrimental to the look and feel of the neighborhood.

"I don't want to be a part of destroying a neighborhood," city Commissioner J.B. Johnson said Monday. "That's what we are doing if we stay on this route."

But any change in the original project would take longer, cost more and risk the money the state had earmarked for the project.

"I am concerned a decision was made six years ago," Commissioner Ed Hart said, "and now we are going to come back and redo this."

Drew Street's four lanes will be expanded by 2 feet to 11 feet and a 14-foot center turning lane, sidewalks and bike lanes would be added. Drew Street carries 26,000 cars daily.

Commissioners will decide how much land will be included by the end of September. If they choose to include entire properties, they will have to choose which side of the street based on costs, property use and engineering issues.

Before they make a decision, commissioners plan to meet with Drew Street residents to tell them about the proposal and ask them which they prefer.

"This is absurd _ the most absurd thing I've ever heard of," said Geary Sue Humphreys, a Drew Street resident who bought her home in 1995 before she knew about the widening project. "I have lost sleep over this. I'm devastated. I think they should leave it the way it is."

Humphreys and her husband, Ken, have spent the last four years renovating their home, which was built in 1920, on the south side of the street. If the city does choose a side, she added, she favors the north.

For some residents, a decision _ whatever it is _ can't come soon enough.

"'It's not fair," said Pat Chellman, who rents out a house on Drew Street. "They've jerked us around since 1993. I'm sick of it."

The state had planned to negotiate with property owners through 2000 and start construction in early 2001. That timetable likely would be extended if plans change.

Last year, Pinellas County finished widening the portion of Drew Street between U.S. 19 and NE Coachman Road.

The state will widen the street between NE Coachman Road and Highland Avenue but the commercial half of the project is not expected to be affected.

City planners asked commissioners Monday to consider including entire properties instead of just the front yards of the modest single-family houses along Drew Street. The houses already are near the road, they say, and taking away more land would leave them too close.

John Asmar, planning and development services administrator, said the original projects could cause "severe deterioration in the neighborhood" and "set back redevelopment efforts 20 years."

Clearwater expected to pay $1.3-million for design costs.

If the city decides to include houses, it would have to spend an extra $550,000 to redesign the road, said Rich Baier, public works administrator.

The Department of Transportation planned to spend about $16-million on land acquisition and construction. Baier said he does not know how much more the proposal would cost the state.