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Store may rise where church stands now

(ran West, South, Beach editions)

A Lutheran church on Park Boulevard and 113th will be torn down if the sale and rezoning go through. Some neighbors object.

Bay Pines Evangelical Lutheran Church, on the busy corner of Park Boulevard and 113th Street for almost 40 years, may be torn down to make way for a commercial building.

The land must first be rezoned from residential to commercial use, something surrounding neighbors oppose. They say the intersection is congested enough with office buildings, stores and a mall on the other three corners.

"We don't need to be tearing houses and churches down in the city," said Shane Lovett, who lives a few houses behind the church.

David Mueller, chairman of the church's building committee, said the church was about to begin a major renovation and expansion project when it was approached by the potential buyer. The 500-member church also has a school with about 80 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Mueller said he could not disclose the terms of the pending sale or the name of the buyer.

But he said the offer the church received was too lucrative to reject.

Still, he said, it was a difficult decision to sell.

"It was hard. It's more than money," Mueller said. "It's hard to say goodbye. You have all that emotional attachment."

The final decision, made by the entire congregation, came down to the fact that selling would allow the church to build "a better facility for growth and for the kids' education."

If the sale of its current property goes through, the church plans to buy 4.7-acres on Park Boulevard near 125th Street, about a mile west of the current site. A new church and school would be built there.

Neighbors who live behind the church are worried about the effect of a retail development.

Bill and Marion Guenther have lived on the corner of 76th Avenue and 77th Avenue since 1959, even before the church was built.

"We're going to be looking right across the street at whatever commercial thing they put up over there," Guenther said. "We've already got three shopping centers (on the corners). That's enough traffic for this little place."

Mrs. Guenther said she worries that security lights from the business will shine into their bedroom windows all night. And, she said, she is concerned that the business will bring additional traffic into the neighborhood with lots of children riding skateboards and bicycles in the streets.

Residents said they have heard that the building would be occupied by CVS. The nation's second-largest drugstore chain announced last year that it planned to enter the Tampa Bay area market this year.

Mike DeAngelis, a CVS spokesman, said the company never comments on potential sites until it has a final lease or purchase agreement.

The rezoning application filed with Pinellas County does not mention the name of the business that plans to occupy the site. It says only that the new owner would put up a 10,880-square-foot building for a single retail tenant.

The two homes the church owns at 11335 77th Ave. and 11353 77th Ave. would continue to be occupied as single-family homes, the rezoning application says.

Neighbors said they have started writing letters of protest to the county and will attend the first hearing on the rezoning June 5.

Paul Cassel, director of the county's Development Review Services department, said the county staff will not make a recommendation on whether the zoning change should be granted until after the hearing. That is the chance for the future owner to present the case for rezoning, Cassel said, and for opponents to lodge their objections.

The County Commission will consider the request July 18. It will go to the Pinellas Planning Council Aug. 16.

Rita Hawkins, who lives on 76th Avenue a few houses from the church, said she worries that a shopping center would devalue the entire neighborhood. "Nobody wants to be looking at the back of stores with Dumpsters in back," she said. "We all try to keep up our houses, and it's a bad thing to have commercial (property) come up against us."