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Pasco commissioners still reviewing sites as Sportsplex USA deadline looms

TRINITY — The three properties under consideration for a softball complex share one thing in common:

None of them is ready for construction to begin anytime soon.

Wetlands and stormwater permitting mean that it would be at least March 2011 before the Mitchell land near the new hospital on State Road 54 is ready to go.

Starkey Ranch needs a roadway, storm drainage and water and sewer, a cost that the owners estimate to be more than $1 million that would come out of the sports complex budget. Commissioners would also have to decide whether to take up the owners on an offer to buy an adjacent 40 acres for another $1 million for a district park for local play.

Adam Smith Enterprises' 30 acres near Trinity Memorial Gardens has the utilities and the road. But that site would need a change to its development order, giving opponents in Heritage Springs the chance to mount a political and legal attack — something likely enough that Commissioner Michael Cox has already called for the site to be pulled out of the running.

That's the short story gleaned from proposals that the three property owners submitted to county officials by the Tuesday evening deadline.

"We're looking at substantial time with all the sites," said Cox, who had advocated for the Mitchell site.

Sportsplex USA, which has been negotiating to run the facility, had said its walk-away date is this month. Cox said he hated to see that, but that the county should take the time to pick the best site — even if it means losing Sportsplex.

"I'm not okay with it," he said. "But I understand what reality is. Reality is it's going to take us a longer time to deal with this issue than the end of June."

That timing factor underscores what had been the top selling point for the original site — 24 acres off Trinity Boulevard near the fire station — picked by the county's consultant, Sportsplex USA. The consultant, which was paid $60,000 for its study, pointed out that location was "shovel ready."

But commissioners killed that proposal after heated opposition from residents of nearby Heritage Springs, who also dislike the cemetery location. That site is a quarter of a mile from the nearest residence.

Dewey Mitchell, whose family owns the land near the hospital, said the best choice is off the table. "I personally thought the original site was the best site," he said. But his family jumped in when it appeared the sports complex deal might implode: "I'd rather see them go on our site than go to Plant City," he said.

Of the three now under consideration, Mitchell said the cemetery site had better access and was most visible from State Road 54. The Starkey Ranch site has the benefit of being a "more global" site because the Starkeys envision a district park next to the softball complex.

"Our site is kind of in between," Mitchell said.

Trey Starkey said he has been talking to commissioners and gotten positive feedback about his family's plans.

"We've felt all along our site is the best site," he said. "Granted, it'll cost a little more, but you will get a lot more."

Though Cox has been pushing to get the cemetery site off the table, Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, whose district includes Heritage Springs, said the board shouldn't give short shrift to the property.

That land is part of a parcel zoned for a commerce park, commercial and single-family and multifamily use. Under the proposal, the uses could include the softball complex and single-family homes. Single-family homes would also go on the county site originally proposed for the sports fields as part of the swap.

She said the residents closest to the cemetery site could thus avoid the likelihood of a more intrusive light industrial park.

"You know what? It makes sense," said Hildebrand, who said opposition turns largely on one perception: "They think it's going to be Yankee Stadium," she said.

Commissioners will take up the proposals in more detail at a special meeting on June 23.

Residents of Heritage Springs, a 55 and up community, shouldn't expect to be the only ones there.

Residents at Fox Wood at Trinity, who supported the original site, are also gearing up for that meeting.

"(B)ring your kids along," Fox Wood at Trinity Community Association's board of directors said in a letter to residents. "If our voices, as full-year, tax-paying, fee-paying families and voters can be heard, it might be possible to get the park we have paid for and been waiting for."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco commissioners still reviewing sites as Sportsplex USA deadline looms 06/02/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 2, 2010 8:38pm]
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