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Port Richey's plans to annex state park fall apart

PORT RICHEY — Port Richey officials had said it would be simply a feather in their cap: Annexing nearly half of the state-owned Werner-Boyce Salt Springs Park into the city limits.

But Pasco County commissioners objected, saying they feared the city would use the move to "cherry pick" adjacent parcels on U.S. 19.

Then Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, said he didn't like the idea, either, sending state officials a letter last week that said annexation "could provide long term harm to this jewel of west Pasco."

Now, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says: Never mind.

The department is withdrawing its petition for voluntary annexation, deputy secretary Bob Ballard wrote Legg on Thursday.

"After further review and in light of the many concerns that exist, it is my opinion that the department not move forward with annexation into the city at this time," Ballard wrote.

Port Richey Mayor Richard Rober had not heard about the state's decision Friday and expressed disappointment.

"I wanted to see it go through," he said.

The state had filed its petition in February after city officials said the department could save on utility costs for its planned picnic and restroom facilities. Port Richey, which has water lines nearby, can charge property owners in unincorporated Pasco rates that are 25 percent higher than city customers.

Pasco officials attacked the petition on a number of fronts, saying it could jeopardize the county's redevelopment plans on U.S. 19 and that a future Port Richey City Council would try to expand the boundaries of its Community Redevelopment Agency, which designates added county revenue, generated from increasing property values, for citywide redevelopment.

Port Richey officials said everybody was making a big to-do over nothing. They said they just wanted part of the 4,000 acre state park for the bragging rights and that they had no plans to use the parcel to pursue future annexations.

But the city's stormy political history was part of the problem. Legg said he had no problem with the current administration but could only look at the city's track record.

"The city of Port Richey has not had a history of being very diligent in all the things they address," he said. "Just a year ago, they were looking at dissolving. … I have a real concern, not with the current manager or council, but there's no telling what could happen in the future."

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, didn't oppose the annexation request but said he would oppose any future annexations of commercial and residential property along U.S. 19, said his top aide, Greg Giordano.

Rober said he wasn't surprised that the city's history played a role.

"Port Richey expects an uphill battle no matter what it does. That's life," he said. "We're going to have victories and losses. … I can't let something like this discourage me. In my view, we've made a lot of headway on issues."

Reach Jodie Tillman at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Port Richey's plans to annex state park fall apart 06/18/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 18, 2010 9:44pm]
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