Oldsmar Cares receives public blowback over planned expansion project

An artist’s rendering of Oldsmar Cares’ new, 3,000-sq.-ft. headquarters. The organization held a groundbreaking ceremony last week for the new facility, which is expected to cost roughly $300,000 and be completed in December. (Graphic courtesy David Wallace and Associates.)

For more than five years Oldsmar Cares has called a tiny cottage on State Road 580 home.

But following the recent news that the organization is constructing a new, 3,000-square-foot headquarters adjacent to its current location near downtown Oldsmar, a number of neighbors suddenly turned on the 20-year-old nonprofit.

Oldsmar resident Randy Hoople speaks before the Oldsmar City Council on Tuesday.

Just days after the groundbreaking ceremony for the new building, several residents voiced opposition to the expansion during a City Council hearing to approve the project’s site plan and a sidewalk variance, with neighbors stating they believe the little food pantry would quickly turn into a fancy homeless shelter given the additional space.

“I really have a problem with this,” Randy Hoople, a resident of Jefferson Avenue, which runs along the eastern edge of the property, said Tuesday. “This has just kind of blown up in our face.”

“We kind of entertained this for however long they’ve been there, and I do want to say they have not been the best of neighbors, parking up and down Jefferson Street, especially around the holidays.”

Hoople went on to describe a “verbal altercation” with one Oldsmar Cares visitor, and he noted the organization brings problems with traffic, littering and water lines in the area.

“I just don’t think that the land supports the purpose they want to do,” he said.

Hoople’s neighbors echoed his concerns, adding the new facility has the potential to bring an increase in crime and a decrease in property values to the area.

Oldsmar resident Jeana Vogel speaks about Oldsmar Cares during the City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 20, 2017.

“I live within 500 feet of Oldsmar Cares. I donate every year to Oldsmar Cares. I love what Oldsmar Cares does, currently,” Dartmouth Avenue resident Jeana Vogel said.

“However, there are major issues with what’s being proposed with their expansion as to what their services will provide.”

Vogel went on to say that the expanded building is “rumored to include cots, include showers. We’re gonna have homeless right within our community, and when they’re kicked out at 9:00 a.m. they’re gonna be walking in our neighborhoods.”

“I have just spent a small fortune upgrading my property…and many residents are upgrading their residence as well, and to have these homeless roaming around, unsupervised, let alone the riff raff that comes with them most of time, is very concerning,” Vogel said.

Another half-dozen residents spoke against the item before an Oldsmar Cares representative commented on the issues they raised.

“This is NOT a homeless shelter,” Brenda Gaulin, Oldsmar Cares vice-chair, said.

Oldsmar Cares officials prepare to break ground on the organization’s new 3,000-sq.ft. headquarters on Friday, June 17, 2017. (Credit: Oldsmar Cares)

“There are no cots. There’s no plan (for that). So we’re not really sure where that all came from and how we got derailed into that direction.”

Gaulin went on to say she understood the residents’ concerns, and she believes many of them will be solved after the construction of the new building, including the inclusion of additional parking. The plan calls for the new building to have 11 parking spaces, up from five at the current location.

“It’s hard to hear that you’re not a good neighbor,” she said.

“So, I think that we need to do a better job of managing our property, just like any other neighbor.”

A view of the proposed site plan for the new Oldsmar Cares headquarters. The 3,000-sq.ft. facility will be constructed near the organization’s existing home on State Road 580 near downtown. The City Council approved the plan 4-1 on the condition the Jefferson Avenue access drive be removed from the project.

The council went on to approve the site plan and sidewalk variance by a vote of 4-1 after four of the five lawmakers insisted on removing a proposed access drive on Jefferson Avenue.

“This is zoned for office, it doesn’t necessarily need any access to a residential street,” Council member Gabby McGee, herself a downtown resident, said.

Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis.

Mayor Doug Bevis, who cast the lone dissenting vote, explained the reason behind his decision after the meeting.

“I thought from a circulation and functionality standpoint, it worked better as shown,” Bevis told Oldsmar Connect by phone.

“It also would have provided residents on and near Jefferson another access point from 580.”

The mayor added he felt the hearing was beneficial to all sides.

“At the end of the day the residents were heard, and Oldsmar Cares acknowledged that they need to be better neighbors as it relates to the property and its surroundings,” he said, adding the facility “is not a homeless shelter, but a facility that gives people a hand up, not a handout.”

An Oldsmar Cares representative also expressed his thoughts on the matter.

Red mulch marks the site of the new 3,000-sq.ft. Oldsmar Cares headquarters, while orange cones on Jefferson Avenue mark the project’s eastern boundary.

“I was impressed by the number of people that came out to support this project and I was delighted we were able to address their questions,” longtime Oldsmar Cares board member David Wallace said via email.

“We are proud that Oldsmar Cares has been here for over 20 years to help people through the kinds of hard times that any one of us might face. I am excited the City approved our site plan to build a new larger facility to better serve the citizens of Oldsmar.”

When asked about the council’s decision after the hearing, Randy Hoople declined comment.

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