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Briar Creek residents fuming over plans for school bus terminal near SR 580

The folks who live in the Briar Creek community are hopping mad.

They don't want the school district to build a bus barn on an adjacent unspoiled patch of wilderness where coyotes, otters, bobcats and rabbits roam.

Residents are organizing a petition drive to stop a land swap between the city of Clearwater and the school district that could result in the construction of the bus terminal on the east side of McMullen-Booth Road, just north of State Road 580.

The plan calls for the city to turn over to the school system more than 20 acres of a 120-acre tract of land it owns just north of SR 580. It would become the home base for maintaining, repairing and parking 300 buses.

In return, the city would get about 20 acres the school system owns near Lake Chautauqua Park at the south end of Landmark Drive off Enterprise Drive.

Briar Creek resident Sharon Philyaw helped form a 15-member group gearing up to defeat the plan.

Wildlife concerns aside, she said she is worried about noise, fumes, bright lights at night and traffic problems.

"We're at a saturation point at (SR) 580 and McMullen-Booth Road,'' Philyaw said. "And then you will have up to 300 drivers coming and going (in their own cars) and buses coming and going four times a day. You are going to have a massive impact.''

She said she is confident she can get signatures from many of the more than 500 people who live in the neighborhood.

Art Kader, Clearwater's assistant parks and recreation director, said the city is considering a way to ease the road congestion. The city would look at putting a signal on McMullen-Booth at the entrance of a nearby golf driving range, he said.

Philyaw resisted the idea of another traffic signal. McMullen-Booth Road already has too many stoplights, she said.

Sometimes "progress stinks,'' said Pinellas School Board Chairwoman Carol Cook, who sympathized with the Briar Creek residents.

"Our transportation costs have gone through the ceiling,'' she said. "We have been looking for a place in north county to keep the buses.''

The school district has bus terminals in the southern and middle parts of the county, Cook said. But every school day, they leave empty to pick up students in all parts of the county and come back empty again. The lack of a north county terminal costs money for gas and increases wear and tear on the buses, Cook said..

In the past, officials considered several other potential sites to build a north county terminal, including one in Tarpon Springs and one in the Countryside area. Those plans fell through, Cook said.

At a City Commission meeting Monday, interim Mayor Andy Steingold urged residents to voice their concerns.

The school district and city of Clearwater "are going to have a fight on their hands,'' he told the Times on Wednesday.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.

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