PINELLAS PARK – The Pinellas Park City Council unanimously approved plans for an automated car wash to be built on 49th Street, despite fears and objections raised by residents of the nearby Sawgrass Village subdivision.
As it’s planned, the new business would occupy part of a now vacant lot at the northeast corner of 49th Street and 68th Avenue, south of a recently built RaceTrac gas station. The council’s decision Sept. 27 went against the city’s Planning and Zoning Board’s recommendation to deny the application.
Residents said they feared a car wash would cause more flooding in their neighborhood, which already is a problem after a good rain. They also said the business would attract criminals looking for a place to loiter and objected to the extra noise, light and traffic a car wash would cause.
However, one of the first residents to speak at the council meeting, Virginia Faler, said she has lived on 68th Avenue, directly across from the vacant lot, for 42 years.
“I have put up with all four objections that you have: the lights, the traffic, the water … and crime,” she told the council, explaining that her own home has its share of flooding from the rains. “I have no objections to a young man starting a business. It’s America and I believe it’s up to God whether it fails or succeeds. And I think he should have the opportunity to go ahead, because no matter what business goes up there, those four things still have to be addressed.”
Katie Chesser, president of the homeowners association for Sawgrass Village, said her neighborhood would be aversely affected by the increase and quality of runoff from the potential car wash.
“The stormwater management measures were … not designed to handle the runoff of adjacent business and definitely not a car wash,” she said.
Another Sawgrass Village resident, Frank Cinnella, said the neighborhood already has had to light certain areas in order to deter crime. He said he feared what 22 parking spaces, unattended after hours might provide for a criminal element.
“I think it’s a great idea to have a business there. My fear is, two years down the road, this large nice building is going to be closed, due to lack of business,” he said.
Other residents shared his worry, protesting that there were too many other car washes in the area.
Eric Schlueter, the future owner of the property pending its final sale, and his representatives pointed out that the council was only charged with deciding if the plans for the car wash would comply with the city’s development and zoning standards. Councilman Rick Butler agreed.
“People have certain rights for their property. They have a right to develop their property,” he said.
The city, he explained, couldn’t make the business decision on whether or not a car wash was a good idea. But the city could try to address the residents’ concerns.
“If you have criminals in neighborhoods, it’s our responsibility,” he said. “We have a responsibility to try to solve those drainage issues.”
The plans met the thresholds set by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, said Henry Hart, a consulting engineer for the project.
“We feel very confident that the design itself will hold up as far as the amount of runoff that is allowed to go into (Sawgrass Village), and was previously approved by Swiftmud,” he said. “Our property is a little bit less than the thresholds.”
The car wash, though automated, would only operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Schlueter said he had already talked with police officers about potential issues and planned to install security lighting and outdoor surveillance cameras.
“The facility will have chains across the entrance and exits so cars cannot just drive onto the property,” he said. “I don’t want a problem when the place is closed.”
He agreed to post “No Loitering” signs, at Mayor Sandra Bradbury’s request, so that officers could quickly deal with trespassers after hours.
The business also would be environmentally friendly, recycling 80 percent of the water used for car washes.
Bradbury assured residents that the city was gradually working on flooding problems in the general area, pointing to an agreement for the city to work with the state in the fourth phase of Park Boulevard drainage improvements, which was approved later that night.
In other business, the council:
• Gave final approval for the city’s budget and tax rate, as presented in the Sept. 13 meeting.
• Approved increase to water, sewer and stormwater rates.