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Largo homeowners fear food pantry's effect on neighborhood

LARGO — The neighborhood in southwest Largo has tried hard over the years to overcome the challenges facing it.

Residents have had some success. But they still have a way to go — contending with a narrow street lined by steep ditches, few sidewalks, foreclosed houses that sit empty, no street lights. It's a neighborhood in transition.

And now, neighbors say, it's facing one more challenge they don't need: Beacon Street Ministries wants to open a food pantry in a building occupied until recently by a private school for special-needs children. Neighbors say there were only 13 students. It was so quiet people barely knew they were there.

"We're not upset that people are trying to help people. Any of us could be down and out and need help. It's not their mission" that's upsetting, said Charlene Lichatowich.

What's unsettling the neighbors is the traffic a food pantry will bring and the fear that the homeless will be camping in vacant houses and littering the area. They say they've already experienced it for the few days the pantry was allowed to be open before Largo city officials shut it down because no certificate of occupancy had been issued.

"It was like a parade," Tina Trowbridge said.

They've asked the city for help.

Dee Chastain, president of Clearwater-based Beacon Street Ministries, could not be reached for comment.

Largo city officials say that beyond requiring the ministry to have the proper permits and licensing, they're not going to be able to do a lot. The land use that permitted the school also allows churches, community development director Carol Stricklin said. A food pantry is a legally acceptable function of a church or religious organization.

The first the city heard of Beacon Street was in June when the ministry submitted a handwritten note outlining its plans to buy the property at 3470 Adrian Ave.

"We will be holding Bible studies as well as assisting the community by giving food to those in need," the note said. "A food pantry will be open one day a week from 5:30 to 7 p.m. (after major traffic). Bible study will occur one night a week on Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. On Friday, we cook and take food to those in need in Clearwater."

Records from the Pinellas County Property Appraiser show the ministry bought the property in July for $173,500.

Late last month or early this month, the ministry moved into the building and began handing out food. It also began work on a driveway.

Neighbors contacted the city, which forced the ministry to move out and stop work because no permits had been issued.

Since then, the ministry has applied for five permits, mostly for a remodeling and upgrading of the kitchen. The proposed work is valued at a total of about $34,500. Largo officials have also called the Pinellas County Health Department to make sure the ministry gets the proper licensing for cooking the food it will take to Clearwater.

Largo City Manager Mac Craig said in a report to the commission that community policing officers work with the ministry "on law enforcement and crime prevention issues to make the operation safe and minimize neighborhood impacts."

Contact Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450. Follow @alindbergtimes.

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