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Tarpon passes on land buy for boat ramp, again

TARPON SPRINGS — Owners of the former Linger Longer mobile home park on the Anclote River were willing to make some concessions, they said.

After initially offering the vacant 20-acre parcel to the city for $4 million, representatives for the owners told commissioners Tuesday night they had dropped their asking price by $500,000 and would pay for an additional environmental study.

They even said they would reimburse the city the roughly $30,000 cost of a March referendum — but only if the vote passed.

That wasn't enough for city commissioners, who were concerned Tuesday night about issues ranging from financial risk, to poor timing in a sluggish economy, to a feeling they were being rushed.

For the second time in a month, commissioners passed on the idea of asking voters if they wanted the city to buy the land to construct a boat ramp. Referendums are required in Tarpon Springs when potential land purchases exceed $250,000.

Mayor David Archie said unequivocally that he couldn't support the project, which City Manager Mark LeCouris has said would use about one-third of the city's projected Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue over the next several years. During that time, the city already has two major projects planned: a recreational sports complex and a much-needed fire station on the north side of the Anclote River.

"I don't think this is a good thing for the people of Tarpon Springs and if I don't believe that, then why should I vote to let the voters decide?" Archie asked.

Commissioner Susan Slattery, a proponent of the project, made a motion to put the issue to voters in March, but that failed when it wasn't seconded. Slattery said she was disappointed her colleagues wouldn't give voters the final say.

"That is their right and I think we are taking that right away from them," she said.

Slattery asked the sellers' representative, Clearwater attorney Katie Cole, if her clients would be willing to slow the process down and consider a November referendum. Cole said they would not.

The property, on the north side of the river, has sat vacant since residents of the Linger Longer mobile home and RV park were evicted several years ago. The parcel is 20 acres, but has only about 240 feet of water frontage.

City staff has estimated it would cost about $1.5 million to construct a boat ramp facility there. And an engineering firm hired by the city said that a second environmental study would need to be done to determine if there were any contaminants from a wastewater treatment plant and a nearby petroleum storage facility, both closed, or pavement containing slag from the former Stauffer Chemical Co.

Cole and an engineer hired by the owners tried to put fears of contamination to rest Tuesday night by offering documentation showing the site had been properly cleared and tested. But that did not sway Archie, or Commissioner Jeff Larsen, who both said they did not feel the project was a good fit for a variety of reasons.

Commissioners had considered placing an RV park on the upland portion of the site, but a financial assessment showed the venture would not generate nearly enough revenue to support the boat ramp and the park.

Commissioner Jeff Larsen said he would like the city to consider going out for proposals to identify other, smaller parcels where a boat launch could be built. That matter may come before the commission early next year.

In other news from the meeting:

• The Sustainable Environment Research Foundation, a new, local nonprofit organization, hopes to build a "zero-energy" facility that will house businesses and nonprofits that will work with educational partners focused on marine environment preservation and energy conservation technologies.

The various entities will work together to create a "job incubator" to train high school, college and technical education students in the marine science and alternative energy fields. Founders hope to build at a leased waterfront site across the Anclote from the Sponge Docks.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@tampabay.com or (727)445-4157.

Tarpon passes on land buy for boat ramp, again 12/14/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 7:50pm]
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