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Tarpon Springs planners question lack of play areas in Mango Circle plan

TARPON SPRINGS — The Tarpon Springs Housing Authority got rid of the unsafe playground at the Mango Circle public housing complex, but an issue remains:

Where will the kids play?

Pat Weber, the Housing Authority executive director, doesn't want to replace the playground because she hopes to get approval to tear down Mango Circle and put up a new, higher-density development.

City Commissioner Chris Alahouzos doesn't get the logic.

"Why can't they put up another piece of equipment and when it's time to rebuild, take the equipment down and put it in storage?" he asked last week. "They can then put that equipment back up when the place is rebuilt. I don't understand why the children have to do without a playground."

Meanwhile, the city's Planning and Zoning Board on Tuesday took a look at Weber's preliminary plans for the new, bigger Mango Circle. It rejected them because, among other things, plans did not show enough open space and places for children to play.

"You look at the plan and all they had was buildings and asphalt and not enough space to do what they want to do," said William Vinson, a Planning and Zoning board member. "It would not leave suitable room for kids to play, and you have that many buildings with kids. It's not a very good environment. Not a very safe environment."

Safety was the issue a week ago today, when the Housing Authority took away the existing playground equipment. It acted after members read a report from an inspector from the National Playground and Park Association.

The inspector noted that the playground equipment was badly rusted and corroded, with 50 percent of the steel poles in the ground rusting away; he found traces of lead in the paint on the equipment.

"This unit at Mango Circle, Tarpon Springs, is a perfect example of a playground that has had no maintenance program or retrofitting to meet today's standard for playground safety," the inspector wrote. "… It is my recommendation to remove these units for child safety."

Weber needs city approval to proceed with her plan to erect a higher density, federally backed development on the 9.5- acre site of Mango Circle, a 60-unit complex built in 1973.

The project, to be built in two phases, would ultimately consist of 176 affordable housing units.

Weber's appearance before the Planning and Zoning board was the first step in the approval process, and it didn't go well.

Members expressed concerns about the project's density, its ownership structure and whether it would meet the needs of residents' children.

"In general, I'm concerned about 18 units per acre for any development in Tarpon," said John Tarapani, a planning board member. "In addition, they should have submitted a site plan for the entire site.

"It should have shown open space. It showed a small tot lot, a small pool, a recreation building. But the maintenance building was twice the size of the clubhouse building. When you have the maintenance building twice the size of the clubhouse, it says that the priorities are in the wrong place."

Weber said it is too early to have a discussion about what the final community will look like. She said the plan could be modified once federal support was assured.

"If they want two parks, we can do that then, " she said. "I'm not committing to that, but we were just trying to give them an idea of what we were thinking. I wasn't asking for site plan approval."

Weber said Pinellas County is on board with the proposal and has contributed $200,000 to the cause.

The board was not persuaded and voted 4-3 against the plan. Final say rests with the City Commission, which will take up the issue at its May 19 meeting.

Weber did not anticipate the board's resistance.

"I was surprised,'' she said, "by their concerns."

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

Tarpon Springs planners question lack of play areas in Mango Circle plan 05/02/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 2, 2009 2:42pm]
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