ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County school district leaders were to celebrate the start of a long-planned YMCA partnership school on Wednesday.
Instead, their scheduled groundbreaking at the old Riviera Middle School site on 62nd Avenue NE is on hold, awaiting action from the City Council. The plan heads to the council because it didn’t gain approval from the Development Review Commission after a three-hour hearing in early April.
At issue is traffic that some neighbors worry the project will generate if cars try to access the YMCA and the school parking lots through community roads rather than using the main entrances on 62nd Avenue NE.
“We like a nice quiet neighborhood,” said Mike Barnette, who has led the adjacent Mangrove Bay subdivision’s drive to refashion the project to keep school traffic from cutting through its roads, which have no sidewalks.
Hundreds of residents from other nearby communities, meanwhile, have petitioned to move the school forward.
“The people in that neighborhood (Mangrove Bay) don’t understand: If it doesn’t go through the city, the whole project could fall apart,” said Christie Bruner, a vocal proponent of the project who lives in Shore Acres.
Bruner said neighbors want a middle school that will better meet the needs of their children than the current selection. The partnership school is slated to be a health and wellness leadership magnet for 600 students.
At the same time, she added, they also would like to have the amenities and services that the YMCA will provide, such as athletic facilities and after-school programs. The school and YMCA would share spaces including the gym, cafeteria and nutrition lab, in addition to outdoor fields.
“Everyone might have to give a little to get a little,” she said. “It’s tricky.”
School district spokesperson Beth Herendeen said the district and YMCA are attempting to answer the questions raised during the development review.
“The architect submitted a revised site plan addressing the concerns that were brought up,” Herendeen said.
The latest submission includes a proposal to close a portion of Pershing Street NE, from 62nd Avenue to Davenport Avenue, as a way to control neighborhood traffic near the site. It also would move all entrances to 62nd Avenue, unlike the original plan.
City officials are recommending approval.
The item had appeared headed for smooth sailing without these changes, after the Development Review Commission unanimously approved the project in January. Then residents living within 300 feet of the site complained that they had not been properly notified about the public hearings.
“They violated city code,” Barnette said, adding that residents didn’t know the issue was up for approval until after the Development Review Commission meeting.
The city rescheduled the hearing because of its omission. The majority of speakers at the April meeting spoke in favor of the school and YMCA, but the traffic concerns from 10 of the 13 closest property owners prompted a 3-3 vote, not enough for approval.
Barnette said the project planners met with the neighbors to discuss possible changes. Most of them were positive, he said, though he had some lingering issues relating to fencing and related matters.
“We don’t want to see this die,” Barnette said. “We just want to see it done correctly.”
Herendeen said the district is hopeful the City Council will let the project move ahead. It has a targeted 2024 opening.
“We’re optimistic we can get it back on track,” she said, adding that, if approved, some basic site work might take place before a formal groundbreaking.
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