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Network of roads could bring changes

Creating a network of roads that would circulate traffic through Citrus Park is one of the most important aspects of the Citrus Park Community Plan _ the very glue planners say, that holds the design together.

It's also the part of the plan that is making some of the people who live in Citrus Park complain the loudest.

They say the notion of circulating traffic through the neighborhood would damage the quality of life they've enjoyed for years.

"It's absolutely a deal breaker if they pull that," said Janet Hiltz, vice president of the Citrus Park Area Civic Association.

The Citrus Park Village Plan, which residents, consultants and planners have been working on for more than a year, would transform central Citrus Park into a smaller but similar version of Park Avenue in Winter Park. There, a main street has contiguous two-story shops built close to the street with parking in the back.

Those in favor of the plan foresee the intersection of Gunn Highway and Ehrlich Road, with the nearby Upper Tampa Bay Trail, evolving into an attractive, popular destination akin to Winter Park or Main Street in Dunedin.

While that kind of planning is commonplace for urban revitalization projects in older inner cities, it's unusual for Citrus Park because it calls for transforming what was a rural setting into something more neo-traditional.

And therein lies the problem.

Surrounded by newer subdivisions, Citrus Park is a hodgepodge of houses on an assortment of streets, a virtual throwback to the way neighborhoods used to be when generations of families grew up in the same house and children rode their bicycles down the middle of the road, family dog in tow.

The houses in Citrus Park vary from rustic log cabins to ordinary looking concrete block ranch homes to the occasional ramshackle homestead, with cows and livestock sharing the yard. While most of the streets are paved, some are little more than dirt or shell pathways, many dead-ending.

In fact, many who live in Citrus Park say they stay there for its rural quality and that they prefer streets that dead-end rather than connect.

"The roads are not constructed to handle a lot of traffic," said Jean Carson, president of the Citrus Park Area Civic Association. "They'll put in curbs and there will go the rural flavor. Citrus Park is a village now. There's good circulation; people can walk anywhere."

Planners and consultants, however, say bringing traffic into and through a neighborhood is essential to a vital downtown area.

"We're not proposing another Gunn or Ehrlich coming through the community," said Lisa Kramer, the county's project manager for the Citrus Park Community Plan.

Instead, the streets would remain narrow and would include speed-controlling devices such as speed humps or landscaping, Kramer said.

Consequently, consultants and planners have come up with three street connections, a plan Kramer said should please most of the people participating in the planning.

Hall Road would connect to Anno Street, a new road would be built along the north side of the new Shoppes of Citrus Park, and a new road would be built north of S Mobley Road that would zigzag through Citrus Park along an alignment not yet determined.

Hiltz, who is not in favor of any new roads, said she especially opposes a street next to the new Publix because it would encourage students from Sickles High School to attempt shortcuts through Citrus Park.

"Hundreds of kids drive to school every day," Hiltz said. "They're looking for a shorter way; they're going to try it with no respect for the rules."

Kramer, however, said she has fielded numerous requests from residents who say they're tired of the traffic congestion and are looking for more ways to get out of Citrus Park and onto Gunn Highway and Ehrlich Road.

"It's a vocal minority complaining," Kramer said. "Ninety-nine percent are buying into the plan. They want a way to get in and out" of their neighborhood.

One of those buying into the plan is Sherry Mullins, who lives with her family on Amherst Street.

"We're excited about the plan for Citrus Park and anxious to see it begin," Mullins said. "Something has to be done to connect the traffic and take it off Ehrlich."

After completion this fall, the plan goes before county commissioners for their review. If accepted by the commissioners and approved by the state Department of Community Affairs, it will be incorporated into the comprehensive land use plan.

The Citrus Park Plan is part of the bigger Northwest Plan, a blueprint that would not replace the county's current land development code. Rather, if adopted, it would offer an alternative with the built-in incentives of speedier permitting and greater density allowances in the town centers.

Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 226-3468