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Linger Longer park purchase headed for a new debate

TARPON SPRINGS — Three weeks ago, city commissioners put the brakes on a proposal to let voters decide whether to buy the former Linger Longer mobile home park in a referendum next year.

But the matter will likely be reconsidered at next week's City Commission meeting.

The vacant 20-acre property on the north side of the Anclote River was considered for a new boat ramp, something long desired because of congestion at the Craig Park ramp.

On Tuesday, a representative for the property owners said her clients are prepared to drop their asking price, which was $4 million when presented to the commission about three months ago.

Katie Cole, an attorney with the Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel and Burns law firm in Clearwater, declined to say Tuesday how much the price has been cut.

"It is substantial, I would say," Cole said.

Commissioner Susan Slattery asked City Manager Mark LeCouris to add an item to next week's agenda to discuss the matter.

Slattery and Vice Mayor Chris Alahouzos voted on Nov. 15 to let voters decide if the city should purchase the land.

Mayor David Archie and Commissioner Jeff Larsen voted against the idea. Commissioner Townsend Tarapani recused himself because his father, John, is the sellers' real estate agent. The deadlock equated to a failed motion.

LeCouris said he doesn't believe a lower price will make the project any more feasible. LeCouris, who has been against the proposal from the beginning, has said the purchase would tie up one-third of Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenues for the next seven years, possibly jeopardizing other significant projects that may come up during that time.

But in a Sept. 6 memo to commissioners, LeCouris said that while he couldn't support a $4 million price, $3.5 million would be "very reasonable."

On Wednesday, LeCouris said he penned the memo before an environmental site assessment was completed.

"Knowing all the facts I know now, the project has too many risks and unknowns," LeCouris said.

Officials with engineering firm Cardno TBE of Clearwater identified four possible areas of concern at the site and have recommended a second assessment phase that would cost about $27,000.

Cardno officials said the phase two assessment would determine if there was contamination from a closed, on-site wastewater treatment plant and a nearby petroleum storage facility, the potential of phosphorous slag in paved surfaces from the closed Stauffer Chemical plant, and the possibility of buried debris at the site.

Reports compiled by the state Department of Environmental Protection show that the wastewater facility was properly abandoned and monitoring did not show contamination from the plant.

While it's possible that none of the other environmental issues exist, if any do, remediation costs could range from $50,000 to $500,000, Cardno officials said.

A site development cost analysis showed it would cost an additional $1.5 million to construct and get permits for the project, which will include substantial dredging to create a suitable depth for launching.

Residents as well as citizen advisory boards have been split on the issue. The city parks board supports the purchase, saying it's a great deal on a piece of land that was valued at $14 million before the real estate market collapsed. But the budget advisory board has said the purchase would be fiscally irresponsible in an era of declining revenues.

Former Mayor Anita Protos urged commissioners Tuesday night to reconsider the matter and let voters have the final say.

"If it fails, we walk. If it passes, we work it out," she said.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4157.

Linger Longer park purchase headed for a new debate 12/07/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 7:35pm]
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