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5 years of work hatch community center

It all began over coffee and bagels.

John Miley, Dick Waltman and Jerry Jacobs sat on the patio of New York Bagel and discussed the need in Carrollwood Village for a community center.

Miley, who called the meeting, remembers that cool, sunny morning five years ago. "My observation is that communities either grow or die," he said. "So if this community is going to remain a healthy, prosperous community, it must grow by creating its own unique identity."

Countless hours of planning, meetings and heated public debates culminated Wednesday when Hillsborough County commissioners voted to locate a community center in what is now St. Mark's Episcopal Church.

The county will buy the church and its 4.5 acres for $1.9-million. Another $2-million will be spent to renovate the two-story building and improve the parking lot and driveways.

When it opens in 2005, the 20,000 square foot building at Lowell and Casey roads will be designed to accommodate town meetings, art classes and rented space for private social gatherings.

It will have no athletic equipment or activities, and no after-school programs for children. Instead, it will be a place for cultural activities like theater plays and dance recitals.

"The overall functions of this facility will be more adult-oriented," said Peter Tagliarini, the architect. "Those have been my marching orders from the very beginning.

"Carrollwood Village is a very sensitive community trying to create a community village concept. They want to make this more of an adult arts and craft center as opposed to others that are youth-oriented."

The project will be paid for with $3-million in Community Investment Tax funds and $1-million in county recreation impact fees. Commissioners voted to spend another $250,000 a year to operate the center.

Although the church purchase is approved, it could take two years to close the deal. Under the agreement with the county real estate department, the congregation at St. Mark's Episcopal will have a year to find a new church site, then up to another year to relocate.

And there's more work to do as organizers prepare for the center's opening.

They are forming several committees that will be involved in every aspect of the center's construction and operation. Those residents will advise the county on everything from the building's design, its furnishings and what programs are suitable for the center.

Right now the wheels are in motion to create a not-for-profit corporation called Friends of the Carrollwood Community Center. The corporation will allow organizers to seek donations and collect rent for operational expenses that will help offset the county's burden.

Plans call for a two-story building. The bottom floors will have activity rooms and general purpose meeting rooms. The second floor will hold the centerpiece 250-seat auditorium.

Anyone will be able to use the center to read, meet neighbors, or play chess or cards. But there will user fees for programs such as ceramics and line dancing, or to attend plays in the auditorium.

Supporters of the center have done their homework. Over the years, Miley has led field trips to community centers in Hillsborough and Pinellas county to get ideas. His Carrollwood Village group soon enlisted support from the broader Carrollwood Area Association of Neighbors.

"We were glad to join this effort," said CAAN president Tom Jones, the property manager at Plantation. He believes such a center is long overdue. "Unfortunately there was no foresight for this when Carrollwood was developed. There was no land set aside.

"It was all developed by different developers who put us in little boxes and erected walls around us and gave us various names. . . . This is the first step towards the development of a Carrollwood community."

But finding a site was no small task.

Members of the search committee wanted to buy St. Mark's years ago, but it was not for sale. In the three years that followed, other sites were considered, but only two were brought to public hearings: the Carrollwood Village Golf & Tennis Resort and 50 acres of unspoiled land between Lowell and Casey roads.

Strong public opposition killed both those plans.

St. Mark's was favored because it has a water, sewer and road system in place.

Still, a small group of adjacent homeowners objected, questioning the need for a community center and fearing the increased traffic.

Parks and Recreation Director Ed Radice said he met with the residents several times and helped solve some of their traffic concerns by adding an entry to the community center off S Village Drive, a second entry off Casey Road, and more turn lanes.

"We feel this would be a viable traffic plan to help the citizens out there," Radice told the commissioners Wednesday. "We feel our traffic options will not burden the community."

Radice said his solutions came after numerous meetings in which residents could voice their concerns.

"I can tell you the democratic process was well served," Radice told the commissioners. "People had a chance to say their piece."

_ Times staff writer Tim Grant can be reached at 226-3471, or at grantsptimes.com.

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