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A year later, Mango Circle children still without playground

TARPON SPRINGS

A couple of boys engaged in a fierce sword fight in the middle of the street Thursday afternoon. Though their swords were mere sticks, the intensity of the jostling and play-fighting wasn't diminished.

Around the bend, another group of children played in their front yard.

The children who live in Tarpon Springs' Mango Circle used to have a playground. But it was removed about a year ago after an inspection found the equipment badly rusted and corroded with traces of lead paint on the equipment.

Residents thought the playground was going to be replaced. They say it's needed.

"These kids need something to do and a playground would be easy," said Dora Atkins, a Mango Circle resident. "Playing in the street, a playground would eliminate that."

Pat Weber, the executive director of the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority, refused to replace the playground equipment because of plans to raze the 60-unit Mango Circle and replace it with new, up-to-date complex. A new playground would be put in then, Weber said.

But the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority recently learned it did not receive the federal tax credit needed to tear down Mango Circle, which was built in 1973. Weber said she plans to reapply for the credit in December.

That means several more years without a playground.

"We can't wait two and three years and not do something about a playground," said Linda Herring, the Housing Authority's board chairwoman. "The board is going to make the right decision, but we have got to have something, especially with the summer months coming up."

The Housing Authority board is scheduled to discuss the issue at its next meeting this month.

Mango Circle came into focus last April after a St. Petersburg Times story described the rundown conditions of the complex's playground.

A National Playground and Park Association inspector delivered a scathing report that said the site was unsafe for children.

Carmen Wilson, a Tarpon Springs Housing Authority commissioner, is still concerned about the lack of maintenance with the previous playground equipment and that residents were reluctant to report it.

"I understand budget priorities, but poor or no maintenance equates to increased liability," Wilson said. "Actions like these would probably not be allowed in other neighborhoods and housing.

"In low-income neighborhoods and housing, there may not be complaints because the tenants do not want to get on the 'wrong' side of management; they're afraid of the repercussions."

Tarpon Springs City Commissioner Chris Alahouzos said the children who live in Mango Circle should have a playground. He said playground equipment can now be broken down easily and moved to other locations.

"If it's a financial issue, we can always do a fundraiser," Alahouzos said. "It's a lot cheaper keeping the kids occupied and healthy by using the playground."

Weber took plans for a new Mango Circle to the city's Planning and Zoning board last spring, but the initial plan was rejected because of its high density and the lack of open and recreation space on the 9.4-acre site.

The City Commission later approved the Mango Circle plan, but not before reducing it from 176 units to 104 and requiring that all designated recreation and open space remain in the plan.

At the time, Weber was on a tight deadline because she was trying to make the deadline to apply for a Florida Housing Finance Authority tax credit for funding.

If the credit was received, the Mango Circle project could have been completed by late 2011.

Since the tax credit was denied for the 2009 cycle, Cecka Green, FHFA's communications director, said it's impossible to know if or when any credits would be given for Mango Circle, especially with the present economy. Applications are being accepted for the 2011 cycle.

According to Tarpon Springs Housing Authority's application, once Mango Circle is torn down, the new affordable housing community would be called Eagle Ridge Apartments.

The $17-million project would be three stories and have walking trails, two recreation areas, a pool and a clubhouse.

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174.

A year later, Mango Circle children still without playground 04/17/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 1:38pm]
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