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Protecting a part of the past

A scenic corridor designation from the county will help preserve the ambience along Nebraska Avenue in Palm Harbor.

Dede Scoggins and her cousins would crouch on the side of Nebraska Avenue and wait hours for a car to come by.

Then they would roll a grapefruit under its tires and watch the freshly picked fruit explode in a pulpy mess.

Nowadays, mischievous kids would not have to wait more than 10 seconds for a vehicle to come whizzing by, most likely above the posted 30 mph speed limit. But there are not enough citrus groves left along Nebraska Avenue to provide the ammunition.

What was once a quiet, narrow road ambling through grove-picking country has grown into a busy, slightly wider thoroughfare carrying up to 15,000 cars a day along some parts.

Subdivisions replaced the groves north and south of the road. On the east it runs smack into the commercial sprawl that is U.S. 19 while its west end empties travelers onto busy Alt. U.S. 19.

Surrounded by development, Nebraska Avenue still manages to offer up some reminders of the good old days: homes built during the Eisenhower administration, oak and camphor trees growing taller by the decade, and residents who recall playing hopscotch in the middle of the road when it was relatively deserted.

County officials hope to preserve what little historic flavor is left on Nebraska Avenue. The county's Metropolitan Planning Organization has declared the section of the road between 21st Street and County Road 1 a scenic corridor. The County Commission plans to follow suit later this summer.

The designation does not prevent major changes along the road, but it certainly deters them.

The county limits commercial development on seven other corridors it designates as scenic: Belcher, McMullen-Booth/East Lake, Keystone, Alderman and Curlew roads in North Pinellas, and 113th Street N and County Road 296 in Seminole.

The MPO has proposed adding Oakhurst Road in Seminole and Nebraska Avenue to that list.

In the case of Nebraska, the designation would discourage widening the road as was done on nearby Tampa and Alderman roads.

"It's an extra level of protection. It's not on the county's plans to widen it, but I'm sure the neighborhood watched Alderman and Tampa and had concerns of, "Are we next?' " County Commissioner Karen Seel said. "In some areas you want to try to retain the rural nature of the neighborhood and more importantly, in this case, prevent commercial encroachment."

Current business owners need not worry. The key commercial areas along the east and west ends of Nebraska Avenue are not affected by the scenic corridor designation. But the label makes it more difficult for commercial developers to get rezonings of residential land along Nebraska Avenue for business use.

More importantly to longtime residents, the scenic corridor classification seems to ensure that their beloved trees will not be razed for major construction projects.

"I have so many friends who say they love the way the oak trees overhang. They're just beautiful," said Marilynn Murphy, a Nebraska Avenue resident for 28 years. "We just don't have that many trees left in Pinellas County. There's got to be something left of Palm Harbor that reminds us of our history. To strip it all back and make it look like new Palm Harbor, that's a shame."