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Annexation of Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park could double size of Port Richey

PORT RICHEY — The city's western limit stretches just a block or two past the strip malls and car lots of U.S. 19, coming to a hard stop at the asphalt's edge of roads like Scenic Drive.

Past that line sits the city's true opposite, a living tribute to Old Florida's undeveloped marshland called the Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park.

Within weeks, that boundary could blur. Three meetings stand between the annexation of about half the park into city limits.

The annexation would more than double the city's size — making it about 1,000 acres larger than its big brother to the south, New Port Richey — though that expansion wouldn't net any increase in county funding or property taxes.

"It's still a state park. We don't get to develop anything," Mayor Richard Rober said. "The city doesn't get too much but a feather in our cap."

For the state, however, the annexation could mean cost savings at the utility meter. The city's impact fees for new construction are cheaper than the county's; so are its water and sewer rates. That would mean any work at the park, like the planned opening of a new day-use area, could go easier on the state's strapped budget.

Annexation likely wouldn't change a thing for the kayak racers and bird watchers who call the park a hidden gem, though. The salt flats and shoreline will still be protected from development and free to the public.

And the city, for its part, could lay claim to the pristine park, even though the state would still be tasked with maintaining it.

Opened in 2001, Werner-Boyce is the county's only state park, attracting since April about 30,000 visitors. Just shy of 4,000 acres, the park features four miles of salty coast and a 328-feet-deep cavernous spring.

Two paths — the Black Rail Trail, named after the shorebirds that nest in the park's barrens, and the Cinema Drive trailhead, which leads into a half-mile loop — edge close to sabal palms and hardwood hammocks.

The city annexed a small portion of the park's southern tip in 2008, about 2 percent of the park's total size, park manager Larry Steed said.

The state filed its petition for voluntary annexation of another 1,946 acres in February, saying it would help "provide basic restroom facilities and ... passive recreation."

Though the park has seen promises of a canoe launch and campsites go unfulfilled for years, a state spokeswoman said officials plan to build the launch, a picnic area and restrooms to offset the park's sole composting toilet.

The city's Planning and Zoning Board will discuss the petition June 9 and, if it likes the idea, the City Council will consider final approval on June 22 and July 13.

Some who live in the West Port neighborhood near the park already worry what the annexation could mean for them.

"We feel the next thing that will be involved, they'll want to annex us," resident Don Beatty said. "We don't want that. We're in the county."

Rober said the city doesn't "have the manpower nor the budget" to pursue annexing the homes along Werner-Boyce, but Beatty's not convinced.

"I don't believe that for a New York minute," he said.

Contact Drew Harwell at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6244.

By the numbers

1,470 Acres of Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park in Port Richey.

2,370 Acres of Werner-Boyce in New Port Richey.

1,946 Acres of Werner-Boyce up for annexation into Port Richey.

Annexation of Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park could double size of Port Richey 05/29/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 29, 2010 1:52pm]
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