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St. Joseph’s Hospital files suit to expand parking

TAMPA — St. Joseph’s Hospital is asking a judge to overturn a Tampa City Council decision last month that denied it permission to expand parking at its women’s hospital in West Tampa.

In the lawsuit, filed Jan. 10 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, hospital officials are asking to have their proposal declared consistent with the city’s long-range plan for the area around St. Joe’s.

City Attorney Julia Mandell declined to comment on the lawsuit this week.

Hospital officials argue that the city development staff and the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission both found no major problems with the proposal to demolish an outdated parking garage and medical office building to expand surface parking on a 4.3-acre parcel at MacDill and Lake avenues.

St. Joseph’s first brought its proposed parking expansion to the city in 2012. It got its first hearing in January 2013, then spent much of the year trying to come up with a mediated plan that would please both the city and the neighbors.

The initial plan called for closing St. Isabel Avenue where it crossed the hospital campus. City council members denied that proposal in November 2013.

The overall proposal provoked a strong response from residents who live south of the hospital. During public hearings, residents complained the parking expansion would intrude on their neighborhood.

Hospital officials returned with a plan that softened the effect of the parking lot by extending a 50-foot-wide linear park running along the north side of Lake Avenue.

In December, St. Joseph’s said it would shield the neighbors from the parking lot with a wall and landscaping, in addition to the linear park.

City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda, who lives on Lake Avenue across from the 4.3-acre parcel, recused himself during the council debate last month.

At the time, Miranda hinted that a lawsuit was probably on the horizon.

“I’m sure that sooner or later, whether today or tomorrow, something’s going to happen,” he said before relinquishing the gavel to Vice Chairman Harry Cohen and moving from the dais to the audience during the Dec. 12 hearing.

Hospital officials say the residents didn’t offer proof that the parking expansion would harm them and their property. Using the site for parking would be less intense than anything else the hospital could do with the property, hospital attorney Amy Boulris told the council in December.

Rebuilding the parking garage to modern standards would cost millions of dollars the hospital preferred to put into its patients, Boulris said.

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