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Tarpon Springs lot to be a connector, not small park

This lot at 143 Tarpon Ave. will serve as a connector between Tarpon Avenue and an Orange Street parking lot of 40 spaces.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

This lot at 143 Tarpon Ave. will serve as a connector between Tarpon Avenue and an Orange Street parking lot of 40 spaces.

TARPON SPRINGS — Ed Hoffman was in a quandary.

Tapped to design a controversial drive-through connector between Tarpon Avenue and an Orange Street parking lot, Hoffman thought the sliver of land at 143 Tarpon Ave. could serve a better purpose.

He went ahead and designed the city's vision for the connector, which includes six parking spaces, public bathrooms and benches. But before a City Commission meeting Tuesday night, he sent Commissioner Robin Saenger an e-mail with an alternate plan.

That rendering included a small pocket park and a walking connector between Tarpon Avenue and the Orange Street parking lot.

"In my personal/professional view, this would make our downtown block much more attractive, comfortable, much safer, and pedestrian friendly," Hoffman wrote in the e-mail. "There are many ways of developing this property including future buildings or kiosk structures for vendors."

While Saenger read the e-mail and strongly supported the pocket park concept at the meeting, her fellow commissioners didn't agree. They voted 4-1 to approve the plan that they had paid Hoffman to design.

"I have a client and I'm hired to do this project and the staff gives me directions to follow the plan with no input," Hoffman said after the meeting. "I am a business owner here, I grew up here, I raised my family here. Had I not said anything and not asked the question, then that would have been hard for me."

The city paid the engineering firm Cardno TBE of Clearwater $24,999 to design the connector. Cardno hired Hoffman as a subcontractor to do the architectural design work.

The connector has been a source of contention in Tarpon Springs. In 2009, some downtown property owners learned that a group was planning to turn the property at 143 Tarpon Ave. into a park. The property owners produced a decade-old city-drafted drawing that called for the connector and not a park.

Last year, Irene Weissenborn of Naples accepted the city's $150,000 offer for the lot that her brothers had bought with sponge-diving proceeds. The city then demolished a small building on the lot.

The city has budgeted $250,000 to build the connector and bathrooms. Bidding on the project will begin in the next 30 to 40 days, said development services director Joseph DiPasqua.

Vasile Faklis, president of the Tarpon Springs CRA Property Owners Association, whose family owns a building adjacent to the connector, said its main purpose is to guide motorists to the 40 parking spaces on Orange Street.

"We want to bring more business to Tarpon Springs," Faklis told commissioners. "We don't want to (just) succeed, we want to thrive. … We are dying on the vine. We want to invest more in Tarpon Springs. We are not fly-by-nighters. If that's the case, we would have left 50 years ago."

The connector will consist of six parking spaces, two of which will be handicapped spaces. Aside from the benches and bathrooms, there also will be lights, a sidewalk and palm trees.

While Mayor David Archie voted for the plan, he still expressed concerns about how the process had worked. Archie said city staffers should have had more input in the design instead of totally relying on a concept that was presented by some downtown property owners.

"We started a backwards process," Archie said. "Now, we are here with this concept and I would wish that we would have given staff an opportunity to present something. But where we are at, is where we are at."

As for Hoffman, he acknowledged that his timing may have been bad.

"I should have expressed my concerns earlier," he said.

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes or (727) 445-4174.

Tarpon Springs lot to be a connector, not small park 01/26/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 9:08pm]
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