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Shopping center developer meets residents' demands

The landscaping is in. Now for the part people really are going to notice.

Exterior renovations should begin soon at Keystone Crossings, the Gunn Highway-Van Dyke Road strip mall that sparked a lawsuit from area homeowners. The Sembler Co. is responding with rustic styling touches that residents wanted all along and say they were promised.

Laura Swain, the former Keystone Civic Association vice president who hammered out the final designs with Sembler, said the community succeeded in getting most of its demands fulfilled.

"It's taken a while, but we reached a good place with it," she said. "None of this would have happened without it (the lawsuit). The center would just stay the way it is."

The changes to Keystone Crossings, one of the community's largest commercial developments, should transform a largely plain building into a more vibrant, cracker-style mall that brings other storefronts in line with anchor Kash n' Karry.

Drawings show rows of stone-based, wooden columns along both sides of the building. New tin canopies will connect doorways and columns to create a covered sidewalk look.

According to the agreement, lower tin canopies will be installed over the windows. At least four large triangular pieces will be added along the parapets for a more gabled, country feel.

The tenant sign, long a sore point, is being redone with a new stone base and decorative side lights, said Lisa Brock, spokesman for the company that also built BayWalk and Centro Ybor.

The last of the changes involves lighting. Although parking lot lights will remain in place, Sembler agreed to confine storefront lights under the canopies, Swain said.

The agreement does not call for any changes to Kash n' Karry or its liquor store, which both face Van Dyke.

Store owners and managers are excited about the renovations.

"I think it's going to look good," said Mailboxes Etc. owner Debby Parsons. "I'm just glad they're finally going to do it. It's what the association wanted for a long time."

When angry residents brought their complaints to the Hillsborough County Commission last year, board members castigated county Department of Planning and Growth Management staff for allowing Sembler to water down the design during site planning. As a result, from now on planners must follow project designs as approved by the commission.

Despite the lawsuit by the Swains and the Keystone Civic Association, both sides are talking about a new, more positive relationship between Keystone and Sembler.

"They really do seem to be nice people, and I don't know what happened in the beginning when they thought they could just get away with this," said Swain, who is a plaintiff with her husband, Jim Swain.

Brock downplayed the lawsuit, which, according to Swain, will be dismissed once the work is completed to the plaintiffs' satisfaction.

"Certainly it was always our intention to have a good relationship," Brock said. "I think it was really understanding the severity of the residents complaints."

_ Josh Zimmer covers Keystone/Odessa, Citrus Park and the environment. He can be reached at 269-5314 or

The Gunn Highway-Van Dyke Road strip mall, now largely plain, will be refurbished to meet requests made in a lawsuit filed by the Keystone Civic Association.