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LARGO ASPHALT PLANT DENIED LAND USE CHANGE

The County Commission responds to neighbors' concerns over traffic, noise and pollution.

Pinellas County Commissioner Robert Stewart rattled off a list of questions that came to mind Tuesday night after listening to a proposal on whether to allow the county to change a land use designation for an asphalt plant.

"Do I want to hear that truck noise at 4 in the morning?" Stewart pondered. "Do I want to deal with and breathe that odor ... the dust, the grit? My answer is no to every single question."

After listening to a gaggle of Largo residents and officials, the commission voted 4-2 to deny a request that would have changed the land use designation for 9.9 acres owned by R.E. Purcell Construction Co. at 1550 Starkey Road. The change to general from light industrial would have allowed a heavier industrial use on the site.

Some residents feared it could open the door for the plant's expansion.

The county was seeking the change because the asphalt company is not allowed under the light industrial use. The change was an attempt to bring R.E. Purcell into compliance so the company could rebuild if the business was destroyed.

"We want to do things that will improve the quality of life in Pinellas County," Stewart said.

But Commissioner Susan Latvala took issue with not allowing the change. She and fellow Commissioner Ronnie Duncan voted to allow it. Latvala said the commission was only "pacifying" residents.

"With all due respect to people who live there," she said, "what was Largo thinking when they allowed residences to be built (next to an asphalt plant)?"

The plant has been at the location since the 1950s, but it was shut down in 1999.

It was dormant, residents of the community surrounding the plant said, when they moved into Willow Greens townhomes, Seminole Palms and Country Club Condominiums.

Raymond Purcell bought the business, and the business reopened. In 2004, residents began to hear trucks rumbling at 4 a.m. and dust began to settle in homes, on their patios and cars.

Attorney Gregory Clark, who represented several of the homeowners, said the plant should have never been allowed to reopen because the land use had changed in 1974 to light industrial and the plant was grandfathered in. When the plant shut its doors, it should not have been allowed to operate there as an asphalt plant, he said.

"Abandoned means discontinued," he told the commission. "If you don't use it, you lose it."

Ed Armstrong, a Clearwater attorney representing Purcell, disagreed with that notion.

"This is not a rezoning or a vested rights hearing or whether the asphalt use was abandoned. It was never abandoned," he said.

The question before the board was whether to amend the land use plan, he said.

Largo Mayor Pat Gerard, City Manager Mac Craig and Carol Stricklin, Largo's community development director, asked the commission to deny the request.

"I've had more requests for intervention on this issue than I have in my eight years on the commission," Gerard told the County Commission.

"I'm not asking that the plant be taken out of commission. They are asking not to intensify the use. Of course, we appreciate Purcell. We use them all the time. But they are not good neighbors if you live next to them."

Christopher Crisci, a Willow Greens resident, was pleased with the result.

"Pinellas County commissioners did a great job of feeling our pain and in the world of politics, it's a little unique," he said. "Kudos to them for sure."

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