TARPON SPRINGS — There may not be fireworks, but at least there's a party.
City commissioners decided Tuesday night to sponsor a family-style "patriotic picnic in the park" on July 4 in lieu of the annual fireworks display at Fred Howard Park.
Commissioners decided earlier this month the $22,500 budgeted for fireworks should go toward a new emergency radio station, but they said they'd consider other ideas to celebrate the day if a sponsor came forward.
At Tuesday's meeting, they got their wish.
Global Tower, which is buying a cell phone tower from Ridan Industries, offered a $5,000 donation to the city if it could expedite a lease agreement so the company, which manages wireless communication facilities, could meet a closing deadline. Transfer of the lease required city approval.
"It just fell into place," said Mark LeCouris, interim city manager.
Global Tower will continue to pay $30,000 annually to lease the space and honor all other terms of the original lease agreement, LeCouris said.
Commissioners said they liked the idea of an old-fashioned picnic, with volunteers grilling hamburgers and kids competing in watermelon seed-spitting contests.
The celebration would be held at Craig Park on Spring Bayou. Plans also include athletic games, kids' activities and free entertainment at the band shell.
Commissioners had expressed concern about trying to find money in the budget for a July Fourth event, with budget constraints looming due to declining property tax revenue.
Craig Park was selected as a location to keep from interfering with plans to reconstruct two bridges at Fred Howard Park this summer.
LeCouris also addressed a rumor circulating among city residents the past few weeks: that they had voted several years ago for the city to pay for fireworks each Independence Day.
"I call it the urban legend of the fireworks designation," LeCouris said.
In fact, residents voted down a city charter amendment in 2005 that would have required the city to set aside $1 for each resident to pay for pyrotechnics. A year later, residents did vote that the city should fund the event, but it was a nonbinding poll.
In other news from Tuesday's commission meeting, the board got an earful from both sides on issues relating to Jack Willie's Tarpon Turtle Grill and Marina, which sits on Lake Tarpon.
More than a dozen residents of the next-door Lake Tarpon Sail and Tennis Club came out in opposition of a proposed restaurant parking expansion.
In recent weeks, neighbors have complained about excessive noise, trash and late-night disruptions coming from the Turtle, which reopened two years ago after being rebuilt.
Neighbor Ed Mazur said the problems go beyond noise and trash. He cited drunken driving, assault and disorderly conduct complaints about patrons.
Mazur, who submitted a notebook full of material to commissioners, said he hired private investigators to determine how many seats the restaurant has. Their count came to more than 300, on two separate occasions. But the city only approved a 150-seat restaurant, he said.
After the meeting, restaurant owner Don Alvino said the Turtle seats 240, no more and no less than when it first opened.
Alvino said the original application showed 150 seats because that's the minimum required to obtain a liquor license. He said he believes his restaurant is in compliance with city and state regulations.
Planning and zoning director Renea Vincent explained that commissioners never specified a seat limitation when they approved the site plan and a previous parking lot expansion.
The city's land development code could be interpreted such that the original parking expansion would have allowed for more seats, Vincent said. But the restaurant would still need to apply for a new building permit to comply with building codes and should do so "post haste," she said.
Vincent said she would also consult with the city attorney to determine whether the Turtle needed to supply a new site plan.
LeCouris said city staff members would review each complaint brought before the board.
"We're going to sit down as a staff with the city attorney and go over each and every issue that's been brought up, and have a course of action on how were going to deal with it," LeCouris said Wednesday.
LeCouris said he and the city attorney would also meet with the Turtle's owner and attorney to discuss the nuisance complaints.
Rita Farlow can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4260.