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Proposal for Palm Harbor Family Dollar draws opposition

PALM HARBOR — It's not that Tom Kava is against having a new business in his neighborhood. What he's against is the type of business it is.

At Tuesday's Pinellas County Commission meeting, commissioners will decide whether to approve a land use change for a property on the southeast corner of Virginia Avenue and Alt. U.S. 19 to allow construction of a Family Dollar store.

The Avid Group, a developer based in Palm Harbor, wants to buy the property, which has been vacant since 2010, from its current owner, Patriot Bank, and build the store.

But before the sale can go forward, the land use must be changed from residential/office/general to residential/office/retail.

The zoning also must be changed, from general professional office to neighborhood commercial.

Since Kava, who lives on Virginia Avenue next door to the property, received a letter from Pinellas County in April notifying him of the potential change, he has gathered dozens of signatures on a petition opposing the project.

"When I moved here in 2008, it already had a business there (C and B Publishing), so I'm not against business, but I am against putting a new building there that is four times the size of what is there now,'' he said.

Kava said he and his neighbors are concerned about the increase of traffic, a potential safety impact for students who walk to nearby Ozona Elementary, the loss of oak trees on the property and how wildlife will be affected when their habitat disappears.

"We see hawks in my back yard every day. We are concerned for the hawks, the snakes and the raccoons — all the animals. Where will they go if they take away their home?'' he said.

John Cueva of the Pinellas County Planning Department reviewed the request before it was sent to the County Commission.

"If you look at the case, we required a development agreement,'' Cueva said. "Having the development agreement is key because it gives restrictions on what can be done. The oak trees that are on the property, except for one that is not healthy, will stay.

"And when it comes to traffic, the county is requiring that there be only two entryways, as opposed to the four entryways there now. What this means is that trucks will only enter and exit onto Alt. 19, not Virginia Avenue.''

The development agreement restricts the store's size to no more than 8,500 square feet — a building on the site that will be torn down is 2,130 square feet — and the agreement also controls what types of businesses could operate on the site.

"Because of noise concerns, for example, we wanted to make sure it wouldn't turn into a gas station or an auto repair center,'' Cueva said.

The business also will be restricted to operating hours of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., with an additional time limit set on trash pickup and deliveries, he said.

Kava is aware of the agreement, but he still has concerns.

"What is to stop trucks from using Virginia Avenue?'' he said. "A Family Dollar is a very large store. This will have quite an impact on the area.''

Holly Bird, a homeowner who has lived in the area for more than 20 years, says that Alt. U.S. 19 is already a big problem. She wrote a letter to the county commissioners expressing her concerns.

"That particular intersection at Virginia and Alt. 19 and the post office is so very dangerous and time-consuming to wait for a break in traffic. I'm amazed that a busy retail store could be proposed at such a terrible location without a light,'' she wrote.

Cueva concedes that traffic has been a major concern. "Because of where it is located, traffic-wise, it may make it a difficult case,'' he said.

The decision that will be made Tuesday does not mean construction on the Family Dollar will begin immediately, Cueva said. Other approvals are required that could push the final decision to December.

The first step is Tuesday at the County Commission meeting, which begins at 2 p.m.

Piper Castillo can be reached at pcastillo@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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