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Porter family releases summary of Wiregrass Ranch sports complex offer

Plans for a new sports complex at Wiregrass Ranch now hinge on whether county commissioners are willing to grant the Porter family greater latitude over the rest of their development.

The family this week released a summary of its latest offer to build 12 soccer and lacrosse fields and eight baseball fields near the Shops at Wiregrass and the planned expansion of Raymond James Financial.

"We pretty much gave the all-in approach and solved every issue we've heard in the past six months," said J.D. Porter. The offer, he said, tells county officials "for you to get what you want, this is what we need."

The deal includes a pair of key benefits for the county:

• A donation of 200 acres for the park, which goes beyond the original 160-acre proposal and Wiregrass' legal requirements for a park site. That would settle a major county demand that the park land be publicly owned.

• The family would also donate land for a future regional rail or rapid bus corridor. Porter said that means the county won't have to buy the land at future inflated prices. "Making a huge commitment like that is a big step for the county," he said.

Porter acknowledged the transit hub would bring people to the area, but he said the project is already attracting development without a bus or rail line. "It's a bigger coup for the county than it is for Wiregrass," he said.

The soccer and lacrosse fields would be built first, in part to retain the Dick's Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions. The national lacrosse event has threatened to leave Pasco for greener pastures if the county didn't build more fields in Wesley Chapel.

Wiregrass would cover operation and maintenance costs for the complex, but the county would pay to build it.

Commissioners have already committed $6 million in tourism taxes and $2.5 million in sales taxes toward the project. The Porters are asking for an additional $5.5 million. That would represent the remainder of the county's tourism money, but commissioners could use other sources such as additional sales taxes and park impact fees.

Porter said the complex would be open to the public at least 25 percent of the time. He said that should relieve any concerns about using impact fees that are legally required to be spent on public parks.

The family also has several requests related to its overall 5,000-acre Wiregrass development:

• Speeding up approval of 2,000 housing units, which would help generate revenue to pay for start-up park costs.

• Relaxing some land-use exchange restrictions. Porter said that would allow his family to convert more homes into office uses.

• Perhaps the biggest request is relief from new "timing and phasing" rules that would require roads to meet a certain congestion level before a new development can move forward. The county has proposed the system to replace the old "concurrency" model.

Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein said the Porters are injecting unrelated development issues into the park negotiations. He said the county's request for bids last fall "was for a park proposal. It had nothing to do with Wiregrass' traffic obligations."

Goldstein suggested the Porters identify certain road improvements they would like waived, as opposed to asking for a blanket removal of timing and phasing guidelines.

Porter expressed frustration that county administrators continue to make different requests for the proposal. "Questions always pop up," he said. "We've certainly done enough from our side to try to create that legacy type project."

Wednesday's commission meeting was supposed to include an update on the negotiations, but it was postponed because two commissioners were absent. Commissioners are set to discuss the project at their April 24 meeting in New Port Richey.

"The region is looking to the decision that we make on this particular facility," said Commissioner Ted Schrader. "I would hope that over the next two weeks the representative of the Porters can meet with county administration to maybe iron out those differences."

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

>>Fast facts

Approval and postponement

In other news, commissioners:

• Approved an offer for the Florida Governmental Utility Association to buy Mad Hatter Utility, which serves 3,500 water customers in Lutz and Land O'Lakes. The agency would pay $9 million up front and $5 million by 2024. It would also make $3.4 million in improvements to the system. Two customers spoke in favor of the deal Wednesday, saying FGUA's proposed rate increase is less than what Mad Hatter was asking from state regulators. If the FGUA board signs off in May, the sale could close in June.

• Postponed a decision on whether the Chancey Road homeless shelter can continue operating. The shelter needs a special permit to operate daily instead of only on cold nights, but neighbors have objected to the facility. Because two commissioners were absent from Wednesday's meeting, the board postponed a decision until the May 8 meeting at the historic Pasco courthouse in Dade City.

Porter family releases summary of Wiregrass Ranch sports complex offer 04/12/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 12, 2012 8:41pm]
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