TARPON SPRINGS — A vacant lot on Tarpon Avenue, long a source of controversy, will finally have a purpose.
The City Commission voted 3-2 this week to move forward with a plan presented by some downtown property owners that will add nine handicapped parking spaces, park benches and public restrooms to the lot at 143 Tarpon Ave. There also will be lighting fixtures, a sidewalk and palm trees.
But the main function of the lot, downtown property owners say, will be to connect Tarpon Avenue to a 40-space parking lot on E Orange Street.
"It's greatly needed," said Vasile Faklis, whose family owns a building adjacent to the proposed connector.
Faklis, also president of the Tarpon Springs CRA Property Owners Association, said the connector was planned more than 10 years ago.
"It provides parking to the north side of Tarpon Avenue, but it also ties in Safford Avenue and Orange Street. It's a link. The biggest problem is people can't find that back parking lot."
City Manager Mark LeCouris said work is moving forward immediately. A small building on the front end of the lot will be demolished in the next three or four weeks, and a property survey should be completed during the same time frame.
Bidding on the project will be done after the survey is complete. If there are no problems, the project could be completed by year's end, he said.
The aggressive timetable is good, said Commissioner Susan Slattery, who voted for the project.
"We have so many projects going on in the city right now, I want to see something completed," Slattery said. "That design is from 10 years ago. I want tourists to come back (next season) and see that we are making some progress in this town. It really can look nice and spruce up the downtown area."
Mayor David Archie voted against the plan. He has concerns about locating the restrooms on the back of the property and the lack of staff input.
"I'm disappointed with the process because we directed staff to bring back a concept with all those elements, and there was no cost analysis or anything done," Archie said.
"This was not the best procedure, and in all my time in Tarpon, we've never taken a plan like that given to the commission and approved it without even giving staff an opportunity to approve it."
Commissioner Robin Saenger cast the other nay vote.
But Slattery said she didn't want "staff spending another month" trying to come up with a plan.
"And we didn't agree to use the downtown property owners' plan; we agreed to use that concept," Slattery said.
Last year, some downtown property owners were alarmed when they learned that a group was planning to turn the property into a park.
Earlier this year, Irene Weissenborn of Naples agreed to accept the city's $150,000 offer for the property that her brothers bought with sponge-diving proceeds. The offer is 25 percent more than the $120,000 appraised value.
With the parking spaces directly beside Faklis Department Store, some have said Faklis simply wants more parking.
"I'm telling you what customers tell me," Faklis said. "Do I want it to help me? Sure, but I want it to help everyone in the area. There will not be signs that say 'Parking for Faklis only.' "
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes or (727) 445-4174.