BY JEFF ROSENFIELD
TARPON SPRINGS —City officials have been hoping a vacant piece of property on Gulf Road would be a good spot for a new fire station, but a survey of the property has disappointed them.
Project Administration Department Director Bob Robertson said he was asked in May to conduct a review of the site regarding its suitability. The new building would have become the home of Fire Rescue Station 70, currently on a one-acre lot at 1025 Gulf Road.
After the Cardno civil engineering firm performed an in-depth analysis of the parcel, the results revealed the property has many potential sinkholes.
"I was fearful of this, because I had heard for a long time there were sinkholes there," Mayor Chris Alahouzos said.
The lot would have been an ideal location for the new station, the mayor said, due to its proximity to the existing firehouse and the desire of city officials to keep a fire rescue facility in the area.
The results of the Cardno survey, however, ruled out that possibility, Alahouzos said.
"It would’ve been nice if we could’ve built a new fire station or used it for recreation purposes," he said of an alternative use for the land if the city bought the $250,000 property. "But now, that’s not possible. We’re not interested in that land."
City Manager Mark LeCouris explained earlier this year that the city was waiting for voters to approve another 10-year extension of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax to pass before moving forward with plans to either refurbish or replace the existing 4,200-square-foot Station 70, built in 1977. Voters passed that last fall.
"As we sit down as a commission the next couple of years, and we start plotting out the 10 years of the Penny, we know probably in the middle of that time that we may be looking at that," LeCouris said, noting the design and construction phase would probably occur between 2023-25. He said he believed they needed to act while the lot was available because "we don’t want to be looking for land in five to seven years."
After the negative assessment from Cardno, "Now, we’re back to where we were before," Alahouzos said. "We’re going to look for another property, hopefully in the same area."
In related news, the City Commission unanimously approved the sale of a perpetual easement for a cellular tower at the rear of the Fire Station 70 property.
According to public records, the city has leased an approximately 3,000-square-foot parcel at 1025 Gulf Road to wireless and broadcast communications infrastructure company American Tower Corp. since October 2004. Under the terms of the current lease agreement, the Boston-based company pays the city $41,000 per year in rent.
In lieu of the annual payments, American Tower proposed a lump sum payment to the city of $720,000 for the perpetual exclusive easement. The commission unanimously approved the request on second reading Aug. 7, meaning a referendum vote in November will decide the fate of the pact.
Voters will also say yes or no Nov. 6 to the proposed 30-extension of the lease between the city and Adventist Health System, which operates what is now known as Florida Hospital North Pinellas.