PINELLAS PARK — Joanna Sands and her neighbors have reached their limit. As apartment complexes rise one after another around their 55+ Mainlands of Tamarac by the Gulf community, they say they’re choked by traffic, worry about the adequacy of the area’s infrastructure and that even their Aldi supermarket can’t keep up with the growing influx of residents.
“The density of apartments is oppressive to us,” Sands said during an interview at the Mainlands, an enclave of 1,937 homes, each painted white.
“We would like to see a moratorium on apartments,” she later added.
Sands and her neighbors have collected more than 1,000 signatures objecting to yet another apartment complex. Some residents at the Lakes, adjacent to the Mainlands and also a 55+ community, and others in surrounding mobile home parks have also signed the petition, Sands said.
The newest apartments are being proposed across from the Mainlands, on a portion of property currently owned by Calvary Chapel at 8900 U.S. 19 N. Belleair Development Group, which approached Calvary about buying the property, wants to build 239 units — 44 for workforce housing — on the almost 10-acre site.
At its peak, the church had an average attendance of about 3,800, a number that began to decline about five years ago. Attendance has leveled off to about 900, Pastor Ryan Marr said.
“We think this is a really good thing for us and it’s a really good thing for the community,” Marr said, emphasizing the project’s affordable housing component.
Sands worries about what would happen if the church decided to move. “What will go there? We want our community not to be one apartment after another after another,” she said. “We accept progress and development, but there are opportunities to make a difference, to make a positive impact on the city. There are so many other things that can be built. What we would like to see is something built that would add to our community, add to the local economy. We need another grocery. We could use a nice pharmacy. We could use a doctor’s office.”
The church site includes an area of wetlands, another reason for opposition to Belleair Development’s plan. Last November, the firm’s request to rezone the site for the apartments was rejected by the Pinellas Park Planning and Zoning Commission. It will go before the City Council on March 26. Sands promises that opponents will show up in force.
She’s concerned that the growing number of apartments will burden taxpayers. “We, the residents, will be the ones to pick up the bill for a new school, new teachers, new emergency vehicles and emergency personnel,” she said.
His project will generate about $1.2 million in property taxes, said Carlos Yepes, co-owner of Belleair Development with his son, Christian. “We are not burdening the system. There are benefits to the city. We are more than paying our share,” he said, adding the county is getting no benefit from the church property, “because they are not paying any tax.”
Yepes said his Pinellas Park firm will make its case for rezoning. “It’s the right location, the right place,” he said. “We have a traffic light to control traffic and we’re asking for no variances.”
Last week, Sands, George Filiau, treasurer of the Mainlands Master Association, and Barb Tierney of the Lakes discussed their concerns about the rapid development that they feel is strangling their communities.
“My biggest concern is adherence to the concurrency management system in Pinellas County,” Tierney said of Belleair Development’s plans. “They have to have a concurrency review, the drainage, the density, the utilities, solid waste, schools, potable water, mass transit, sanitation.”
“The infrastructure will not handle all of these apartments going up,” Filiau said. "You need the infrastructure to handle all of this before the apartments go up. It’s going to be years before the roads are completed.”
In November, the Mainlands, whose main entry is off U.S. 19, installed a gate at its 40th Street entrance to stop cut-through traffic from clogging its private roads.
Tierney noted that Belleair Development will have to win approval for its mitigation plans for the wetland area from several agencies, including the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A mitigation site has been proposed and discussed with Swiftmud, said Dale Meryman, president of Meryman Environmental in Riverview, a Belleair Development consultant. ”It’s a small area next to an existing system. This is offsite, but it is within the same watershed,” Meryman said, adding that a required survey has revealed that there will be no loss of endangered or threatened species from changes to the current wetland.
“In this particular case, the wetlands onsite are basically covered with nuisance exotic vegetation that is required to be removed by the county per their development permit,” said Meryman said. The area is mostly populated with Brazilian peppers, he said. Quality wetlands have “80-plus percent native vegetation,” he added.
Belleair Development has also hired Lincks and Associates, a Tampa civil and traffic engineering firm, to address traffic concerns. Rob Fulp, senior project manager, for the firm, said the new Gateway expressway, expected to be complete in late 2022 or early 2023, would lead to “a nice reduction of traffic on U.S. 19, from Gandy Boulevard to Bryan Dairy.”
The Florida Department of Transportation is “anticipating anywhere from 9 percent to 22 percent reduction in traffic,” he said, adding that residents could see a 15 percent drop during peak hours.
“That’s going to take years to complete and right now, the volume of traffic is bumper to bumper and unsafe,” Sands said.