NEW PORT RICHEY — Public outcry has stalled an effort by city officials to declare nearly all of New Port Richey a brownfield in the hopes of tapping into economic incentives for redevelopment.
More than a dozen citizens came out in opposition at the City Council meeting Tuesday night, prompting the council to table a final vote on the brownfield status. Instead, council members opted for a fact-finding work session on Dec. 13 to get more information on what a brownfield designation would mean for the city.
"I don't feel that we are in a position to move forward with this," said Mayor Bob Consalvo, who along with other council members said he received communications on the matter from a skeptical public.
A brownfield designation would allow the city to identify specific sites that could be contaminated — such as former gas stations, dry cleaners and other businesses that used chemicals — and offer tax breaks and other perks to property owners to clean up the properties.
The proposed resolution would seek a state brownfield designation for the 2,250-acre Community Redevelopment Area, a near citywide swath that the council already declared blighted back in 2001 to qualify for other grants and tax incentives for redevelopment. Acknowledging the brownfield label could be perceived as a negative, officials said they would call the area an "Economic Incentive Area."
But some residents said the possible stigma of painting nearly all of New Port Richey as potentially contaminated would far outweighs any benefits.
Much of the opposition at City Hall Tuesday came from local Realtors who said including residential neighborhoods in the proposed brownfield area might send property values plunging. Realtors in the crowd also said if the resolution passed, they would be legally bound to disclose the brownfield status of properties to potential buyers.
"Perception and stigma (are) very, very strong," local real estate broker Sonia Magruder told the council. "I want to thank you for not making a hasty decision."
After the meeting, city leaders said they were open to the option of targeting certain areas for brownfield status, instead of a sweeping designation covering almost the entire city.
Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe said brownfield status along the U.S. 19 corridor could be useful. Although he voted for the brownfield resolution on first reading last month, Marlowe said Tuesday a near citywide designation could do more harm than good.
"I said when this first came up that we already declared the city blighted, so how much worse can it get? Well it appears that it can get worse," Marlowe said.
Council member Judy DeBella Thomas first questioned last month how property values may be affected, but said she still voted for the measure on first reading in hopes of having more discussion.
Redevelopment in the city is important, she said, but taking such a drastic step as a brownfield designation demands scrutiny.
"There is no quick fix. This is just one option that needs to be used with discretion," she said.