ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County School District leaders planned to celebrate the start of a long-planned YMCA partner school on Wednesday.
Instead, their planned grand opening at the site of the former Riviera College on NE 62nd Avenue is on hold, pending action by City Council. The plan is heading to council because it failed to gain Development Review Board approval after a three-hour hearing in early April.
The problem is the traffic that some neighbors fear the project will generate if cars attempt to access the YMCA and school parking lots through community roads rather than using the main entrances on NE 62nd Avenue.
“We like a nice, quiet neighborhood,” said Mike Barnette, who led the campaign for the adjacent Mangrove Bay subdivision to reshape the project to keep school traffic from crossing its roads, which have no sidewalks.
Meanwhile, hundreds of residents from other nearby communities have asked to move the school forward.
“People in this neighborhood (Mangrove Bay) don’t understand, if it doesn’t go through town, the whole project could collapse,” said Christie Bruner, a strong supporter of the project who lives in Shore Acres.
Bruner said the neighbors want a college that will better meet the needs of their children than the current selection. The partner school is expected to be a health and wellness leadership magnet for 600 students.
At the same time, she added, they would also like to have the amenities and services that the YMCA will provide, such as sports facilities and after-school programs. The school and YMCA would share spaces including the gymnasium, cafeteria and nutrition lab, in addition to outdoor grounds.
“Everyone may have to give a little to get a little,” she said. “It’s delicate.”
School district spokeswoman Beth Herendeen said the district and YMCA are trying to address issues raised during the development review.
“The architect has submitted a revised site plan addressing the concerns raised,” Herendeen said.
The latest submission includes a proposal to close a portion of Pershing Street NE, from 62nd Avenue to Davenport Avenue, to control neighborhood traffic near the site. It would also move all entrances to 62nd Avenue, unlike the original plan.
City officials recommend approval.
The article had appeared to be heading for a smooth ride without these changes, after the Development Review Board unanimously approved the draft in January. Then residents living within 300 feet of the site complained that they were not properly informed of the public hearings.
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“They violated city code,” Barnette said, adding that residents were unaware the matter had to be approved until the Development Review Board meeting.
The city postponed the hearing due to his omission. The majority of speakers at the April meeting spoke in favor of the school and the YMCA, but traffic issues from 10 of the 13 closest homeowners resulted in a 3-3 vote, which did not is not enough to be approved.
Barnette said project planners met with neighbors to discuss possible changes. Most of them were positive, he said, although he had some lingering issues with fencing and related issues.
“We don’t want to see this die,” Barnette said. “We just want it done right.”
Herendeen said the district hopes the city council will let the project go ahead. It has a planned opening in 2024.
“We are optimistic that we can get it back on track,” she said, adding that, if approved, some basic work on the site could take place before the official inauguration.
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