TRINITY — Just days before Heritage Springs residents are expected to again protest the location of a proposed sports complex, an alternative site has emerged: nearly 35 acres just east of the hospital under construction on State Road 54.
The land is part of the Mitchell family's property near Little Road and State Road 54. If the proposal goes through, the family would agree to convey that land to the county for the park.
Commissioner Michael Cox had championed the project's proposed location on 24 acres off Trinity Boulevard — even when 200 Heritage Springs residents showed up at a meeting last month and complained the softball field facility would bring excessive traffic, lighting and noise to their senior community.
But privately Cox, who faces re-election this year, began looking for a less controversial site.
His first thought, he said, was to call Dewey Mitchell, the well-known real estate agent whose pioneer ranching family owns most of an 1,159-acre spread on the south side of State Road 54, east and west of the Little Road intersection.
"When I reached out to them," he said Friday, "I was like, 'Isn't there anything?’ "
Sportsplex USA, the consultant that recommended the Trinity Boulevard site, had talked to the Mitchell family when it originally studied locations for the project. But the family's plans for the rest of their property had not gelled, and the land was never in the mix, said Cox.
Once contacted by Cox late last month, Mitchell and his planners got together with county officials and worked out the possible location near the Trinity Medical Center, which will replace Community Hospital's New Port Richey location.
The site would be accessible from Mercy Way, which loops off Little Road near the SuperTarget at Mitchell Ranch Plaza. A road would eventually be built off State Road 54.
Unlike the Trinity Boulevard site, this land would need stormwater permitting, which is expected to add at least six months to the process. But unlike the Trinity Boulevard site, it may not come weighted down with public opposition.
It isn't the only alternative site that has emerged.
Adam Smith Enterprises, the Trinity developer, has also proposed putting the fields on another location further from the homes, just east of the fire station, where it had originally planned single-family homes, said Lew Friedland, company president. That would have eliminated the noise and light complaints, he said.
Those houses would then go on the county site now proposed for the sports fields, a move that would have required a change to their development plan. He pitched it to Heritage Springs directors. On Sunday afternoon, they called him with an answer. "They weren't interested," he said.
Commission Chairwoman Pat Mulieri got wind of the Mitchell site and Friedland's alternative a little over a week ago from County Administrator John Gallagher.
So when she went out to meet with Heritage Springs residents on Monday, she brought along maps showing those alternative locations.
Mulieri, who is also running for re-election, said when she drove around in a golf cart with some of the Heritage Springs residents, she began to imagine how the complex would look to their community. She said she started to empathize with their complaints.
"The way the people feel, it's their Pasco, it's their land," she said. "You look at it from different perspectives. When I rode in the golf cart, it was different from their perspective."
Mulieri said she also ran the Mitchell site by Sportsplex USA, which is negotiating to run the facility aimed at hosting tournaments for out-of-town teams and relieving the pressure on other sports fields. Though the company prefers the Trinity Boulevard site, she said, it also found the Mitchell property "acceptable."
Cox met with half a dozen Heritage Springs board members and their attorney on Friday afternoon, just before Commissioner Ann Hildebrand was scheduled to meet with them. He said he pitched the Mitchell property as well and got positive feedback.
"At the end of the day I personally think it's going in an actually better place," said Cox. "The reason why is we don't have to buy additional acreage. It is closer to Mitchell fields (on Little Road), and one of my goals was it would help alleviate existing fields. It's right there near a lot of commerce.
"So I mean I think what I did today was make lemonade out of lemons."
On Tuesday, commissioners will take up the sports complex issue at 3:30 p.m.
One of the four commissioners who originally voted to select the Trinity Boulevard site would have to make a motion to suspend procedural rules. That will take at least 4 votes. Once the rules are suspended, one of those four can move to reconsider the location.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.