NEW PORT RICHEY — Back in January, Pasco County commissioners settled on a 26-acre site off Trinity Boulevard as the future home of a five-field softball complex aimed at attracting tournaments and tourists.
The next five months brought protests from a senior community, internal debates on the board and a near shelving of the idea.
Now the board is trying again. This time, it is poised to put the $12 million project at Starkey Ranch.
Commissioners did not take a vote Tuesday, but they reached a consensus to move forward with plans for the 40-acre site at the as-yet-undeveloped Starkey Ranch property in Odessa. The developer has to give the county that much land for parks as part of the development process, and county officials are considering buying another 40 acres where local youths can play ball.
"I went out to look and am glad I did because what I saw was the land was beautiful," said commission Chairwoman Pat Mulieri. "I think I looked at it and said, 'This could be a legacy.' "
The idea of buying an additional 40 acres is what swayed Commissioner Jack Mariano, a longtime holdout who said he's now satisfied that the entire project will benefit local youth. Going to 80 acres, he said, "opens up a whole level of acceptance for me."
A public hearing scheduled for tonight on the project is expected to draw a big crowd from the Trinity area. Commissioners will vote on the location after hearing from residents.
As proposed, the sports complex project would include five softball fields surrounding a restaurant. Sportsplex USA, the California-based consultant that is negotiating with county officials to operate the facility, has recommended that evening weekday play be aimed at local adult softball leagues. Weekends would be devoted to tournaments designed to attract visitors.
The second 40 acres would have an undetermined mix of fields. The Dixie youth softball league based in Seven Springs has asked the county to let it use those additional fields for its tournaments.
Buying the additional 40 acres is expected to cost the county about $1 million. Getting the site ready for development could cost $1 million or nearly $2 million, depending on whether there's enough on-site fill.
Commissioners had three choices before them, but only Starkey Ranch panned out.
The Mitchell property near Community Hospital did not have an additional 40 acres available.
Adam Smith Enterprises pulled its property near Trinity Memorial Gardens from consideration. Originally, the developer had wanted the project to go on the 26 acres it gave to the county for a park as part of the development process, but it pitched the land near the cemetery as an alternative.
Tonight, commissioners are expected to talk about what to do with that original 26 acres picked for the sports complex. Commissioners dropped that site after Heritage Springs residents protested that the field lights and traffic would hurt their quality of life. But other Trinity residents, including younger families, still think that land should be used for a community park.
Lew Friedland, Adam Smith Enterprises president, told commissioners they should make sure there's enough park impact fee money left over from the Sportsplex project to do something on the 26 acres.
"We can put together a little park in there that makes everybody happy," he said.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.